26 Sept 2011

Mini Reviews 25/09/2011

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: Brian Azzarello
Art: Cliff Chiang & Matthew Wilson
DC $2.99

Matt C: For a long time it’s seemed like DC have had a tough time getting the modern audience to engage with Wonder Woman. There have been some well-regarded runs over the last few years, but nothing to raise her above the second tier to the same level as her partner’s in DC’s ‘holy trinity’, Batman and Superman. The interest is definitely still there though; look at the hoopla that surrounded the Wonder Woman TV pilot earlier this year, and that was all for something that NBC decided not to pursue for a series (no doubt swayed by negative fan reaction). You wouldn’t get that much interest for a Blue Beetle TV show! What was blatantly needed was a new perspective on the character, preferably not one from the mind of J. Michael Straczynski! Step forward then, Mr Brian Azzarello. I didn’t take to his brief runs on either Batman or Superman, but the man’s clearly a talented writer and perhaps just needed the right mainstream superhero to fit with his sensibilities. Who ever would have guessed that would be Wonder Woman? It’s not a character reinvention by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a new take on the mythology with a far darker slant than we’re used to. Azzarello doesn’t give much away in this first issue, instead letting just enough to whet our appetites so we have no choice but to come back for more. This is complemented by Chiang’s retro-tinged visuals that possess the edge needed to bring this weird, wonderful and gory tale to life. An impressive start and there’s a strong possibility that, for the first time ever, Wonder Woman could become a permanent addition to my pull list. 8/10

Mike S: This book really tears me in two with a definite love/hate thing going on. I am a loyal and long standing fan of Diana, having stuck with her through some pretty disappointing creative teams, so I was really looking forward to this new run and in all honesty, it doesn't disappoint. Azzarello certainly brings a new twist to the tried and tested Wonder Woman vs the Gods story by creating some pretty gruesome and horrific sequences of godly power. The idea of protecting Zola (and the reasons for doing so) makes for an exciting and promising story for Diana, not least because I’m something of a mythology nut and love this sort of thing. However I have to say - and this might be an unpopular opinion - that I really do not like Chiang's artwork. I'm not even quite sure why. It is relatively expressive, suits the action sections to a degree but, to me, seems a tad flat and cartoony, and not in keeping with the darkness of the story. Maybe it will grow on me over time but regardless the story is enough to draw me back and to make me more excited about Wonder Woman than I have been in a long time! 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Marcos Martin & Muntsa Vincente
Marvel $2.99

James R: Firstly, what a cover! Marcos Martin's work is in a different league on this book, and before the story even begins, he delivers a striking visual image to draw us in. Once inside, Mark Waid continues to do a grand job undoing the egregious Andy Diggle-penned Shadowland arc, as Matt Murdock continues to be a defender of the public who is now staying out of the courtroom due to the (frankly true) rumour that he is Daredevil, becoming embroiled in the mystery of a blind man fired from his job at an investment firm after identifying Latverian accents visiting the office. So far, I love how Waid has incorporated the greater Marvel Universe with a deft touch - Klaw last time out, and the shadow of Doctor Doom in this issue – as it makes the comic all the more enjoyable if you're au fait with these characters, but it stands up just as well on its own. In terms of art, Marcos Martin raises the bar here - this month sees the story beginning with a two page, 30-panel introduction that sets the mood and propels the story with a series of beautiful vignettes. My only gripe is the length - all told we get 20 pages of story, and it feels a little curtailed as a result. But if you've ever had any love for Daredevil, I implore you to take a look at this book as it's on the cusp of turning into a classic run, and if you've resisted the charms of ol' Hornhead before now, you could do worse than taking a leap of faith with this issue. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
DC $2.99

Stewart R: It’s been quite a year for Scott Snyder with American Vampire going from strength to strength, a run on Detective Comics showing his crime-fiction talents and now he finds himself in charge of the creative direction of one of DC’s biggest titles and arguably their most popular character. And for his first attempt I’d say he aces it as this is just what I want to see in a Batman comic. The Arkham Asylum brawl could have been dubbed a ‘safe play’ had it not been for the great way that he uses the Batman Rogues Gallery to explore the different way that the denizens of Gotham view their city and the appearance of the Joker was a very nice and unusual touch. Snyder highlights the socialite element of Bruce Wayne’s lifestyle and then immediately counters it with Batman in full detective mode as he investigates a gruesome and far from usual murder. The whole book flows incredibly well and is certainly helped by the increased page count which also gives Greg Capullo the opportunity to deliver some decent art. It’s a slick, dark and atmospheric aesthetic and the moments where a cape and cowl are visible make it clear why DC secured Capullo’s talents for this job. The only slight problem arises when we’re dealing with Bruce Wayne as a lack of variety in facial construction leaves many of the men at the included society event looking like close family. A small blip in an otherwise terrific read though! 9/10

James R: A little while back, I tweeted at the editor of the Bat-books, Mike Marts and implored him to let Scott Snyder write a Batman story with Bruce Wayne as, following his outstanding work with Dick Grayson in Detective Comics, I was keen to see what he could do with the psychology of Bruce Wayne and his relationship to Gotham. Well, sometimes wishes come true! This week sees Snyder taking the reigns of Batman and, by thunder, it's outstanding stuff! Whereas the other Bat titles have been very much a continuation of pre-Flashpoint stories (with the exception of Batgirl) this is perfect for anyone looking to get back into, or pick up a Batman comic for the first time. Snyder gives us a sit-rep of Bruce's world whilst introducing us to a (trademark Snyder) creepy murder scene that has potentially explosive ramifications for one of the former Robins. Huge kudos must also go to Greg Capullo - I know the other Paradox group members have appreciated his work before, but he takes it up to a whole new level here. With the exception of mayoral candidate Lincoln March looking almost identical to Bruce, he renders everyone with terrific style, and Jonathan Glapion's inks capture the Gotham aesthetic perfectly. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Scott Snyder is a perfect fit for Batman, and for my next wish, I'm hoping he stays on this book until it's triple figures again. 9/10

Writer: Paul Levitz
Art: Francis Portela & Javier Mena
DC $2.99

Mike S: Long live the Legion! As an established fan, this book was great! If, however, its aim is to hook in new readers it’s not so much of a winner but nor in the same breath would it alienate them (excuse the pun!). Here the Legion reacts to the incidents of Legion Lost in a subtle way that doesn't directly tie in with this title and we also get to see the Espionage Squad in action as well. A good mix of old and young characters works well for long time readers, though newcomers might find it a touch inaccessible without a bit of effort, but it shouldn't put anyone off. On top of this, not only is the writing strong, the artwork from Portela - reminiscent of Jiminez or Perez in places - is stunning! If that wasn't enough, the mystery of the hooded woman running through the DCNU might be solved with the inclusion of Glorith who, in previous continuities was the Time Trapper. In this debut she mentions rewriting time at the same as Dream Girl mentions the Flashpoint event - is this a coincidence? Do such things even exist anymore? Time will tell! A strong start and looks like it might be a good read as the series progresses. 7/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Jason Keith
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I hadn’t been entirely sold on this miniseries up to this point: there’ve been a lot of elements I’ve liked, and it was good to spend some time at the centre of the X-Universe again, but the change of artists each issue didn’t work for me and the teenage villains weren’t entirely convincing. No such problems here though. If Alan Davis had been on the book the whole way through it might have been a different story; as it stands, he brings his considerable talent to bear, and thanks to the timelessness of his style (and, of course, his regular inker, the ever excellent Mark Farmer, in tow) this is a visual tour de force. The whole issue focuses on the lumbering advance of a super Sentinel towards Utopia while Cyclops and Wolverine bicker about how to proceed, until the bickering turns to full-on arguing and then fists, claws and optic blasts start flying. The moment I knew I was indeed reading a fantastic issue was the moment the slanging match evolved into violence. It’s a moment that boils the history of these two characters down to one very specific thing – or person – and if you’ve been reading X-Men comics for any length of time it should really resonate with you. Up until now, I figured this would be a brief foray back into the main X-books and I wouldn’t stick around for the relaunches. Now, even with DC pumping out several books that have made their way onto my pull list, I’m not so sure. 9/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: A strange one this; on the one hand Gillen does well with what he has but on the other it’s as if he and we have been robbed of something truly spectacular thanks to the greater needs of the Fear Itself event. He certainly does well with the influence and effect that the power of Cyttorak has on Colossus; the change in him being quite subtle and all the more saddening as a result. I’m not fully convinced by the interactions with Kitty, finding them to be all too brief considering the pairs’ overall history and the fraught recent past but then that’s probably down to page count and the time restriction thanks to the impending fraction and title renumbering. The interactions and politics witnessed between Mayor Sadie and Cyclops make for decent reading, save for Greg Land once again letting the ball drop at a key moment with a somewhat baffling choice for an all important facial expression. It’s a shame as he’d been doing so well up until that point. In fact I could say ‘it’s a shame’ about a few things on this particular issue but thankfully it doesn’t look to be down to Gillen’s talent and that’s important leading into a new era where hopefully he’ll get greater control and freedom on this title. 6/10

Writer: Judd Winick
Art: Guillem March & Tomeu Morey
DC $2.99

Matt C: My real fondness for Selina Kyle as a main character (rather than a supporting player) came through the last volume of Catwoman. It launched brilliantly with the winning team of Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke at the helm, and while Brubaker sailed the ship into enticing waters for a good while (Cooke bailed early) I’m of the opinion that it improved when Will Pfeifer took over, with the human dimension really implanting itself firmly in the ground. I was sad to see the back of it, tried Gotham Girls but didn’t get on with it, and then saw this new book as part of the New 52 relaunch. I wasn’t convinced by the creative team but I decided to give it a whirl because I’d missed looking through that window into Selina’s life. I wasn’t expecting much, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this! It’s the ending that undoes all the slightly agreeable work that comes before it, because up to the last few pages it’s kind of okay. Very bog standard, very predictable in its approach to the character, and definitely not a highlight of the New 52 so far, but then those final scenes come along and completely pull it into the direction of – without giving too much away – adolescent fan fiction. It’s titillation for titillation’s sake, does nothing to develop either character involved, and instead it cheapens them both. That final page is fucking terrible, no two ways about it. March’s art is fine in places, but way too obsessed with cleavage shots, and considering how smart and sophisticated the last series of Catwoman was, this feels like an enormous step backwards. This reboot of Catwoman already needs it’s own reboot! 3/10

Mike S: Another favourite character of mine gets a comeback title and it's business as usual. We get Selina running from danger and an exploding home (really, this is a stock Catwoman ingredient it seems; just how careless is she at covering her tracks?) and the inevitable Batman appearance - I was going to say entrance but considering they do the dirty, possibly not the best word to use!. And on that matter… I get that they have a relationship, and that it might well be overtly sexual but this really was bordering on porn and I'm certainly no prude. The artwork was okay, quite fluid at times although not necessarily to my personal tastes but it worked for the character. A quite promising start, despite the gripes, and certainly worth a look, but it’s another case of "One arc to hook me or I'm out of there!!” 6/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99

Stewart R: While Geoff Johns disappointed with his efforts on the new Green Lantern title, Tomasi delivers a far better demonstration of how to use 20 pages to highlight the everyday problems of not one, but two of Earth’s Green Lanterns and also set up a brutal mystery to pique the interest of this reviewer’s brain box. DC have played a very sensible card in moving this creative team (or just the title of the comic?) sideways as Emerald Warriors was the far more consistent title over the past 12 months and Tomasi is the ultimate writer of Guy Gardner and the wider Corps in my opinion. In this first instalment he shows perfectly just why Guy and John Stewart find it so difficult to adjust back to life on Earth and why they make such a good team, being two very different characters in terms of outlook and temperament yet sharing a common sense of justice as well as isolation from their old lives. Pasarin is a superb ‘Lantern’ artist, seeming to jump with ease from everyday scenes on Earth to those in the outer sectors of the Universe and provided that he can keep to the DC schedule (early reports suggest a fill-in artist stepping in around issue #3-4) this should remain a damn-fine looking and entertaining series for some time! 8/10

Writer: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III, Jon Conkling & Michael DeVito
Th3rd World Studios $3.99

Matt C: Handsomely produced, gorgeously illustrated and with well-defined characters that ensnare you and draw you into their world, The Stuff Of Legend continues to be on of the most impressive titles being published today. The second issue of the current series reveals the reason behind the case of mistaken identity Jester is experiencing, and seeing how that plays out is one of the numerous reasons why it’is such an essential read. Raicht and Smith continue to explore the world of the Dark and the increased scope keeps pulling in more fascinating, intriguing characters whose motivations and desires – never predictable – make them seem more ‘human’. Even though the cast find themselves travelling down increasingly darker paths, the writers make sure that wit and genuine emotion remain present, and while it’s a fairytale to all intents and purposes, it feels ‘grown up’ at the same time. An absolute treasure of a comic book. 9/10

Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Siomne Guglielmini & Ron Riley
Image $2.99

Matt C: Jay Faerber appears to have been off the comics radar for a while since the excellent Noble Causes and the pretty good Dynamo 5 wrapped up (still waiting on Gemini to conclude though!) so I was please to see him back with Near Death and curious to see what how he would tackle the crime genre when he’s made his name with superhero comics. I really wanted to like this but just couldn’t get onboard at any point. The main stumbling block is this: we meet a contract killer just before he ‘dies’ on the table, has a near death experience and decides to take a path to redemption, which is all well and good but since we don’t experience this guy up to his bad old ways his decision just doesn’t have any impact. It’s not badly written or anything, but if you can’t connect with the story at that point then everything that comes after isn’t going to connect either. The art’s very tasty though; Guglielmini comes at the page from a similar kind of place as the likes of Sean Phillips and Michael Lark - in other words, it suits the genre right down to the ground, but without any emotional engagement with the story no amount of pretty pictures can prevent this from being a disappointment. 5/10

Writers: Owen Wiseman & Michael Benaroya
Art: Nam Kim, Matthew Dalton & Sakti Yuwono
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Well this really is a series that is growing and maturing just as its three protagonists are. Following the harrowing corruption of Mayako’s hope last time out, Wiseman turns his attention to the relationship between Jun and Katashi as the lines between the master and retainer roles become blurred through the influence of friendship, love, family and a need for vengeance. The constant corruption of the three youngsters’ innocence at the hands of the harsh realities of their brutal world is really gripping stuff and for every glimmer of hope that Wiseman casts he quickly dispels it with two clouds of doom which certainly makes for a compelling read. The art from Kim, Dalton and Yuwono has been capturing the period well and Kim certainly has the broad library of grim facial expressions required at his disposal. This remains a must-read for those of you looking for something a little different from the usual superhero fare. 8/10

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Jesus Saiz & Nei Ruffino
DC $2.99

Mike S: I have been a dedicated follower of the Birds since the very beginning and it is a title that has had more than its share of ups and downs, but the latest incarnation is a little anticlimactic if I am honest. It was an adequate beginning but hardly earth-shatteringly good. Black Canary didn't seem herself, I’ve no idea who Starling is other than a generic gun toting agent (with a ridiculous bird name!) and the story itself, while not awful, wasn't exactly original. Still, Barbara Gordon showed up, Katana will be there soon and the cover promises Poison Ivy, so I could be tempted to stick with it for the first establishing arc, but beyond that it might have its work cut out! 5/10

Writer: Kyle Higgins
Art: Eddy Barrows, JP Mayer & Rod Reis
DC $2.99

Matt C: I enjoyed Dick Grayson’s short time in the famous cape and cowl far more than I expected to, so now that Bruce has returned to active duty I was kind of keen to keep track of what Dick did next. This is another ‘soft’ reboot, which is another way of saying not a hell of a lot has changed from the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe here. It’s not a bad start really, but it very much feels like a by-the-numbers DC comic book; it’s not exactly stale but then it’s not really feeling that fresh either. Barrows art is decent, coming across with what often looks like a grittier version of Alan Davis’ trademark style, but the overall impression is that this is another Nightwing comic rather than a brand new start. I like the character, and this isn’t too bad, but whether that’s enough to get me back next month remains to be seen. 6/10

Stewart R: Originally a title I turned my nose up at when seeing the solicitations, this has proved to be one of the surprises of the week. I loved Dick Grayson when he took on the Batman role and wasn’t too keen to see him almost demoted in the New DC 52 but Higgins does well to show that Dick appreciates his new-found freedom and opportunity to operate by his own rules in Gotham. I like the presence of Haly’s Circus throughout as it forces Dick to look at his past and how, despite the growing maturity he shows as a superhero, there are still elements of his past that trouble or haunt him. It’s those emotional instabilities that make him such an interesting character and also add a vulnerability that he has to overcome when facing new and deadly opponents. Speaking of which, there’s a slight mirroring with Snyder’s Batman #1 as Dick Grayson - as opposed to his alter ego Nightwing - finds himself targeted for assassination by a skilful assailant and it’ll be interesting to see if that proves to be a simple coincidence or something more. An enjoyable start and another DC lock in for the old pull list. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This is much more like it. The first two issues of this relaunch felt formulaic and uninspired, as though Brubaker was simply going through the motions. Here though, everything snaps firmly into focus resulting in a real return to form. We get an extended fight sequence between Cap and a giant android version of himself (yes!), Sharon Carter going up against Baron Zemo and one hell of a ‘Trojan horse’ moment that, while signposted, is still brilliantly effective. It’s all rendered with smooth dynamism by McNiven, and Brubaker’s script is far more confident and lively than the we saw in the previous instalments. A slower start to the series than I’d have liked, but Captain America is finally back in business. 8/10

Writer: Rob Williams
Art: Simone Bianchi, John Lucas & Simone Peruzzi
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: For the best Fear Itself stories this summer it seems that it has been the miniseries that only loosely touched on the themes and repercussions of the Serpent’s plans without direct involvement that offered up the better reads. Rob Williams managed to make the most out of the wave of fear gripping the world and conjured up an Uncanny X-Force story that matched Rick Remender’s tone from the ongoing title and and also nailed the characterisation while ensuring that this was a mission that only this team of mutant special agents could deal with. I liked the way that Williams also adds a level of balance to this final chapter by delving into Jonathan Standish’s motives and showing just where his extreme and fundamental views have come from. It adds an extra layer of depth and certainly enhances the themes of faith and fate that are sewn throughout. Bianchi was a fine choice on artistic duties and I certainly think I made a fine choice in picking up all three issues! 8/10

Writer: J. T. Krul
Art: Freddie Williams II & Jose Villarrubia
DC $2.99

James R: So far, I've been really pleased with the DCU relaunch - my mantra has been 'As long as their are good stories, I'm happy', and that's been the case with the books I've picked up to date. Captain Atom represents one of the titles I took a gamble with as I love a comic that has an intellectual or reflective edge (yes, I'm horribly pretentious!) which can be found in the work of Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and of course, Alan Moore's work. When I read the solicit for this title, I felt that J. T. Krul had similar aspirations to these comics greats. The idea behind this re-imagining of Captain Atom is to explore what effects god-like powers would have on a human psyche and, before you can say ‘Doctor Manhattan!’, the Captain also bears more than a passing resemblance to Watchmen's demigod. So is it worth picking up? It's a tough call - it's a neat first issue, but it also felt a little vanilla at the same time. For reasons which may become clear later, Krul choses not to tell us who Captain Atom is, how he got these powers, or where he stands in relation to the new DC Universe who have only had superheroes for a few years rather than decades. I'll pick up the second issue as there was enough here to keep me interested, but on this evidence, Krul's script doesn't quite match his lofty aspirations for the title. 6/10


ian said...

Again nice reviews of the new DC 52 guys,but the only one I can't agree with is the two reviews of Catwoman,to say it was bordering on porn is just plain silly and I don't see it as a step backward,to me this is Catwoman as she should be a woman of 2011 and we all know that her and Batman have had a thing for each other for years,so for me it was nice to see them actually get it on instead of it just being hinted at or drawn in the shadows and it's about time superhero comics got a bit more real in that department,who knows next we may see Catwoman going through the time of the month,and as for me I flipping enjoyed the comic for what it is a form of escapism and I will stick with this title as unlike others out there I'm not a fan boy who follows writers and artists from comic to comic and even if a title gets crappy for awhile I wont drop it I'll stick with it because for me it's always been about the characters,that's why I started collecting comics,not for who was writing it or drawing it,maybe I'm odd but that's just the way I am.

Matt Clark said...

Longest sentence ever!!

I'm sorry, but those final scenes in Catwoman pander to the lowest common dominator, they're total fanboy wank fantasy. Suggesting it's the way Catwoman should be portrayed in 2011 is ludicrous, and saying we'll see Catwoman going through the time of the month is offensive. If what your after are cheap thrills rather than decent, mature storytelling, then this is the book for you, just don't try and kid yourself into thinking this is some sort of bold subversion of the way female characters are portrayed in 21st century superhero comics, because it's not.

ian said...

If I wanted mature storytelling I'd collect a number of the good adult titles that are out there,but I don't as I have and and always will love my superheroes,as for it pandering to the lowest common dominator,it's hardly a wank mag it's just a comic after all and stating that Catwoman going through the time of the month is offensive smacks of misogyny, and as for this being the book for me,well yes it is as a matter of a fact,maybe I should ask Andy to put it in a plain brown paper bag for me and while I'm at it I'll wear a dirty old mack as well.

Matt Clark said...

Your interpretation of the definition of misogyny is obviously wildly different to mine then, Ian!

Mature storytelling in 'adult' titles only? So we have to accept juvenile storytelling in our superhero books? And would Catwoman be acceptable for, say, a 7 year old to pick up, considering the content? All the puerile tits and ass finale to Catwoman #1 does is reinforce the negative stereotype of the lonely comic book fan with perverted tendancies who still lives with his parents. Which, I suppose, is fair enough from a certain viewpoint as there are plenty of fanboys who probably fit that description.

Anyway, whatever, at the end of the day it's a bad comic, but the real sore point for me is to see a character with so much potential cheapened this way. Yeah, Catwoman should be sexy, that's part of her 'weaponary' so to speak, but she's much, much more than that.

Tom P said...

Catwoman is artistically barren using cheap tactics to get noticed in this relaunched line up. In that respect it has succeeded.

ian said...

Why would a seven year old pick up a comic that clearly states it's for teenagers and I don't think any shop keeper in his or her right mind would sell a copy of Catwoman to any one under thirteen,and truth be told how many seven year old's do we see in comic shops these days, as for accepting juvenile storytelling in superhero comics I think those kind of storeys went out the window in the late 70's,and I'm not saying that superhero comics shouldn't be serious,lord knows I have tons of serious superhero comics in my collection,the point I'm trying to get across is why can't superhero comics be more fun from time to time,and where doe's this stupid stereotype of a lonely comic book fan with perverted tendencies living at home with his or her parents come from,in the 30 odd years I've been collecting comics I've never come across anyone like that,or is this coming from a personal point of view.

Matt Clark said...

Hahaha, you're kidding, right? Because comic fans are generally sexy, urbane dudes with hot babes on each arm!

ian said...

Well I'm certainly not an urbane dude,more a battle worn man in his 40's,and as for sexy my wife thinks I am and that's all that matters to me,also on the subject of hot babes that's to teenage for me,but my wife is very beautiful so I score 2 out of 3 on that one,as for the stereotype are you drawing from personal experience on that one.
And sorry about the misogyny sentence,what I meant to write was it smacks of you coming across as a misogynistic,glad I got that bit cleared up.

Matt Clark said...

Okay, I'm not really sure what you're talking about anymore (apart from suggesting I'm a misogynist!) so I'm bailing out of this 'conversation' here!

ian said...

Bailing too as this is getting boring.