23 Oct 2011

Mini Reviews 23/10/2011

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: Matt Fraction
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dexter Vines, Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor & Matt Milla
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: Marvel’s main event for 2011 reaches what is supposed to be a conclusion, but as we’ve seen from Previews and elsewhere, the publisher appears to be intent on milking the concept as long as possible, so there’s plenty more to come. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s another reason to push me towards DC’s welcoming arms. An extra dollar and some extra pages doesn’t lift the quality of the series; in fact, the final issue of Fear Itself is the worst yet. The whole things feels absolutely meaningless: the deaths have no resonance, the battle scenes are inert and the characters appear to me just going through the motions. Fraction seems completely out of his depth here, as though he only came up with a half-formed storyline before he had to set it to the page. Everything just washes over you, nothing sticks. The art’s far and away the best thing about this series, but without any emotion to back it up even the most striking images don’t linger long in the memory. If this is where Marvel are now heading I’ll be choosing to stay on the periphery. You want to see a really powerful, riveting battle between Thor and the Midgard Serpent? Seek out the end of Walt Simonson’s seminal run (Thor #380 in particular) – that’s how you do it! This, on the other hand, isn’t. A failure on just about every level. 3/10

Stewart R: Wow, we pay an extra buck and we end up with a weighty issue... that’s filled with little in the way of meaningful content! Well okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh. We get a decent scrap between Thor and the Serpent which Stuart Immonen really excels himself with, and there’s a definite ‘YES’ moment involving Captain America. It also seems that we’re not getting a miraculous reset following all the destruction which is a relief and I look forward to seeing if Paris’ loss is a point that continues to get reference moving on from here. The huge problem with this ending however, is the relative redundancy of the transformed Avengers and the weaponry that Stark has spent so damn long creating. They only act as a simple plot device to suggest that the heroes can go toe-to-toe with the Worthy - who haven’t had nearly enough exposure as this event has progressed - and we get minimal page space given to those clashes which is a definite opportunity missed. There’s also the matter of the huge sales drive that our extra dollar has evidently paid for. Nearly a third of the oversized issue is given up for epilogues that are glorified adverts for spin-off or new series loosely tied to the events of Fear Itself. Marvel would have been better to offer them up as a separate $1 - or how about free?? - preview. As it stands it’s added an extra unwanted pip to the generally sour experience that Marvel’s 2011 tentpole event has been. 4/10

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

James R: I have paced around for a few days trying to get a handle on this issue, as it’s a strange beast for me. After the first instalment which, for me, set everything up very well, the second issue seems to be a bit of a retrograde step. When you read comics for a while, one of the tropes that is always mocked/referred to is the notion that when superheroes meet for the first time, they will fight before realising it's all been a crazy mistake and that they have to combine forces to deal with a greater villainy. The reason it gets mocked so much is that it's so hackneyed and it all seems a bit unlikely. As a result, I'm amazed to see a hand as experienced as Geoff Johns making this the central drama in this book. Apart from that, there are some nice moments - I loved the Barry Allen's turmoil over a case that may go cold due to the police's determination to find out the identity of the Flash, and the suggestion that the Flash and Green Lantern are already old friends. It also goes without saying that Jim Lee's art is a joy to behold, and he's the perfect fit for this book. At the moment though, this reads less like the Justice League and more the adventures of a bunch of prats who need to calm down! Will I be back for issue #3? Of course! I'm hoping this was more a glitch than the blueprint for what's to come. 6/10

Matt C: It almost seems too obvious, but if you want creators to tackle the biggest superteam in the DC Universe you hire the biggest names at your disposal. You wonder why it took so long to get a Justice League book with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee at the helm! This is DC at its ‘big budget’ best with the characters you want to see bouncing off each other in situations that wouldn’t carry the same weight or level of excitement if confronted alone. Flash makes his debut as the staple battle between guys who haven’t yet realised they’re on the same team kicks off. Johns’ adept handling of the icons makes the script sing while Lee frequently proves how he’s often in a class of his own. You don’t come to a book like this looking for a deeper insight into these characters but there are plenty of emotional beats that tell you what you need to know in a short space of time, meaning the various scenes have a certain level of believability about them. It’s enormous fun and it’s been too long since I could say that about what’s arguably the premiere superteam in comicdom. 8/10

Stewart R: This is still someway from being the blockbuster title that it should be but it’s clear to see that Johns is trying to kickstart something. The inevitable super-brawl that was hinted at last month unfolds over the first half of the issue and Johns brings Barry Allen into proceedings to flesh out the cast a touch more and highlight that at this early stage he and Hal Jordan already have a working partnership of sorts. A big super-powered fight is the sort of thing that Jim Lee excels at and here he gets to depict the Superman vs Bats/Flash/GL scrap. While it’s decent on the whole there are a few misteps scattered about - he doesn’t quite get the super-speed meeting between Supes and Flash right for me. I’m also not convinced that Cyborg’s origin story is a necessary addition at this stage and I feel that it’s taking something away from the potential eye-popping, awe-inspiring book that this Justice League title could be. It’s showing potential but it’s not hitting the high notes just yet. 7/10

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

Stewart R: Well, old Pete and Fernando haven’t wasted a single moment in turning this into one of the most explosive and tense comics of the New 52; this is truly phenomenal high-action and dramatic story telling. With several of their comrades dying at the hands of an unknown enemy, the team assembled by Guy and John begin their investigation, aiming to hunt down those responsible. Tomasi gives every Lantern involved a voice and a key part to play from beginning to end. He employs a no-nonsense camaraderie amongst the seven of them and it’s great to see them working as a team as the danger increases. There’s also an important balance to been seen as the Lanterns are confronted by foes that offer a serious threat, and it’s never quite clear who will gain the upper hand until the moment is upon us. A large part of the credit has to be given to Pasarin, Hanna and Eltaeb whose artistic skills merge together to offer one of the best looking comics of the entire relaunch and the level of kinetic excitement these three gentlemen manage to pack on each page is truly awesome. This is the best of the four Lantern titles available now and no mistaking - to be honest, it’s realistically making a case to be named best of the whole bunch of 52 presently. 9/10

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

Matt C: If any further proof where needed, this issue shows that Scott Snyder understands the Dark Knight implicitly. He gets how Gotham seeps into the skins of its residents, how it affects their destinies for better of worse, throwing up both heroes and psychopaths. He knows how to play both Bruce Wayne and Batman as two different but inseparable parts of the same whole, approaching the challenges of ridding the streets of crime from separate, but complimentary avenues. And, importantly, he sees how this isn’t a one-man show: the Caped Crusader is front and centre, but the supporting cast help shape him, influence him, sometimes in almost imperceptible ways, sometimes more obviously. The character wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective or able to sustain such longevity without the likes of Jim Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth or Dick Grayson popping up, even if only briefly (and that’s without it even touching upon his legendary rouges gallery). Basically, Synder is the right man for this job right now. Capullo’s pretty damn fine too, with a decent mix of accomplished figurework and explosive action resulting in some magnetic imagery. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to read when I pick a book called Batman. 8/10

James R: Well, this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s checked in on this blog on a regular basis - my book of the week is a Scott Snyder title! (And yes, I know if it's not Snyder then it's the equally great Jeff Lemire!) Apart from the brute fact that this is just an outstanding Batman comic and you should be picking it up, this week I decided to try and figure out what it is that Snyder does that's so right, and where some other writers fall short. Flicking through this issue, one thing strikes me and that is that Snyder has an innate skill at pacing his books. So many modern comics can be throwaway affairs (Yes, I'm looking at you, Marvel's Ultimates!) that it is a total pleasure to read a book that strikes the perfect balance between dynamic visuals and content. Beyond that, Snyder also splits the book between the two things which should always be the hallmark of Batman - jaw-dropping action and Holmesian detection. This issue has that in spades; I loved seeing Bruce and Jim Gordon working in tandem to ascertain the background of last issue's unfortunate corpse. As if all this wasn't enough, Snyder also borrows from the best elements of Hollywood. In the same way that American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest read like blockbuster movie, here Snyder uses the flashback to great effect. All in all, it's a pleasure to pick up a comic which - I can say with great confidence - is in the midst of a legendary run. 9/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Javier Tartaglia
Marvel Icon $2.99

Stewart R: It might well be that the lengthy delay between #4 and #5 of Superior has done us a favour as this latest issue, following on only two weeks after the last, benefits from the story being fresh in the memory. After his high-flying, super strength antics last time, Simon is now confronted with a terrible choice by demon, space-monkey Ormon who reveals himself as the worst type of devilish pusher there could be. Millar thankfully keeps things unpredictable by expanding upon buxom, newshound Maddie’s past and it’s this small diversion that adds an extra level of heart to proceedings that was probably the only thing missing from this series to date. Things escalate to the point that we could all spot coming a good mile off, but are left at a cliffhanger moment and with Mark Millar you can never quite tell what’s going to lay at the bottom of that high drop. 8/10

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Bernard Chang & Blond
DC $2.99

Matt C: This made it home mostly because it was a ‘quiet’ week and the first issue had piqued my curiosity if nothing else. I kind of like how Jenkins has plonked us into the midst of Deadman’s existential crisis as he tries to uncover why he does what he does, and for what purpose. I’ve never been overly familiar with Deadman as a character before but it’s fairly interesting watching him attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery even though, in all likelihood, he’ll never find the answer he’s searching for. The key word though is ‘interesting’ because at the moment words like ‘gripping’ or ‘essential’ aren’t really applicable. While Chang’s art is fine (but occasionally too clean for the subject matter) this feels like a book that I could read again if it was put in front of me but one that I wouldn’t have the need to go out of my way to find it if it wasn’t handed to me. The concept makes me want to like the series a lot more than I actually do. Issue #3 is still a possibility, but a relatively slim one I think. 6/10

Writer: Larry Hama
Art: S L Gallant, Gary Erskine & J. Brown
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: What we have here ladies and gentlemen is prime example of what makes Larry Hama the best G.I.Joe writer bar none. The military-fiction maestro combines two plot-threads, one a flashback to Sneak Peek’s reconnaissance mission in Darklon’s territory, the other an infiltration and extraction mission undertaken by Flint, Lady Jaye and Roadblock, relying on the information provided by the previous undercover work. The back and forth between one story and the other is impeccably thought out with Sneak Peek’s side offering up a romance-behind-enemy-lines subplot while the gunfighting and explosions are left to the trio of Joe veterans. With the final two pages offering up two very different cliffhangers it seems that Hama woke up rather inspired the morning he scripted this issue. When S L Gallant started as main artist on this title, I wasn’t convinced that he was the right choice, but he’s proved with months of consistency that he is doing Hama’s scripts full justice. 8/10

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

James R: And with that, I find my first dropped title of the New 52! Last month offered a solid enough opener and I was persuaded to stay onboard as J.T. Krul seemed to have some fine ideas for the book. To quote him from the interview at the back of this issue, he says *ahem* "Part of the dilemma for Captain Atom will be how his abilities affect the world around him. It's not always a matter of what can he do, it's what should he do." Sounds interesting, eh? Well, sorry to say, there's zero evidence of such interesting philosophical themes in the book. What do we get? Captain Atom cures a kid with cancer. Sheesh. And why does he do this? Because "It's nice to do something healing for once." I may have a cold heart, but this book has far more potential to tell stories of alienation (we're told that the Justice League don't want to work with Captain Atom) than reading nine (!) pages of what comes across as a Fantastic Voyage riff. Williams and Villarrubia's art is nice to look at, but it's so saccharine you may get diabetes after reading. Sorry DC, that's one less for me. 4/10

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

Stewart R: With this ‘final’ issue - to be quickly followed by a new Uncanny X-Men #1 in a few weeks *groan* Why do it Marvel? - Gillen looks back at what the X-Men were when Xavier set up his institute for gifted youngsters, using Kirby and Reinman’s classic art from X-Men #1 to neatly display just how different things are these days. The writer also shows that while the cover may suggest that this is an end to things, he’s certainly looking to the future as Mister Sinister makes his reappearance in a brilliant sequence where he is continuously being reconstructed, and then ordered to destroy himself by an overseeing AI until certain personality issues in the process are resolved. The test set by the AI is for Sinister to recall and analyse the events that have unfolded on Utopia and it acts as a great narration. Greg Land also gets to join in on the fun with a brilliant double page spread showing a condensed history of the X-Men and I really, REALLY hope that he gets to tackle Apocalyse at some stage after that effort! The concern moving forward is that there may not be enough personality left in an increasingly cold Cyclops and his retinue on Utopia, but I’m sure Gillen is the writer to prove me wrong there. 8/10


Living Tribunal said...

Definitely a shallow storyline overall and the last issue fell completely flat. The pacing was choppy; the dialogue was goofy; and the whole thing was rushed. Ask yourself this: If the Asgardian weapons blessed by Odin were enough to trash the Worthy, why didn’t Odin just arm his own men with the weapons? Why would Odin need to be convinced by Stark to allow him to make the weapons? That makes no sense, and it can’t be explained away by saying that Odin was to stupid to think about himself so he let Stark take a shot at it . Sorry, major plot hole. The ending reminded me of the ending of Secret Invasion where the Skulls were suddenly defeated when Osborn killed the queen. In fact you could easily replace Skrulls with the Worthy and it reads the same.

Stewart R said...

There just seems to be a lack of imagination and ingenuity when it comes to Marvel's main events recently. The same cast of characters are continuously being dragged out to fight against huge odds and eventually triumphing without a great deal of lasting impact.

As you say Living Tribunal, there was a similar brevity to the conclusion of Fear Itself as there was for Secret Invasion. It's almost as if Marvel don't want to get too deep into engaging and engrossing story, in a main event title at least, because they're stuck in the mind-set that spectacle sells! Looking back over the past few years, I think the last 'main' event that offered something different was Civil War, while the fringe events - Annihilation, Thanos Imperative, Messiah Complex - have been the more successful in what they accomplished.

As long as the bucks keep rolling in and the unit sales remain high then I guess nothing much is going to change.

ian said...

Have to agree with everyone on Fear Itself #7,not the best way to end an event comic and in a few weeks we get Point One that leads into next years event and Marvel are shipping out to retailers more than what they ordered as it would seem they want the number one comic again.
Just of subject here,and as I know you guys don't review books on this site,but I thought I'd just mention a fantastic book I'm reading at the moment called British Comics:A Cultural History by James Chapman,
for anyone like me who's into comic book history.
Just one fact'S from the book is that the first comic book to feature picture strips and the first recurring character was Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday [1884-1914] and it was a British comic,so it looks like we got there before the Yank's.
Also a little quote at the beginning of the book I thought I'd share with you,it goes as follows,
"Comics have not yet arrived in the way films and television have,accepted as rational amusement for adults and a proper subject for academic study.Comics are still liable to be dismissed wholesale as trash, appropriate for weak or under-developed minds,and probably
detrimental.Curiously enough much the same was said of the drama in Shakespeare's day and of the novel in Jane Austen's time"
Maybe one day the general public will come to see that us comics fan's aren't that weird after all.
One more thing,for anyone who likes the DC animated movies Batman Year One is available to buy only at HMV,I've got it and watched it and can highly recommend it.

Stewart R said...

Funnily enough Ian, a Batman: Year One review is imminent...

Joe T said...

I'm actually now 2 issues behind on Fear Itself-when an event mini series gets dropped, you know it's bad!

Out of this weeks comics, I picked up Batman, Nightwing, Wonder Woman and Star Trek/Legion Of Superheroes

Batman was great, and made me realise how much I've been missing a Bruce Wayne as Batman book. Capullo's art was much better here than it was last month, and in his guest appearance, Nightwing looked more like his age. Synder writes a good Bruce Wayne, and a Badass Batman. I'd rate this issue an 8.5/10. If not for Synder's fantastic work on Detective, this would have made a 9.

Nightwing. I'm really enjoying this book. The art is great, it feels like Nightwing, and yet feels like a worthy sequel to Grayson's tenure as Batman. Pleasantly suprised by this book, and I'd give it a 9/10.

Wonder Woman. Last month, I was shocked I picked up a Wonder Woman book and enjoyed it. This month, I was even more suprised that I STILL enjoyed it. This was a great book. Another 9/10.

Star Trek/Legion Of Superheroes. I'm a casual fan of both properties, and I've never read anything by Roberson before, so I'm not entirely sure why I picked this up. This was a reasonable read, nothing spectacular, nothing awful, but nothing really happened either. I'd give it a 7/10, as it was okay. The Phil Jimenez cover is absolutely gorgeous though.

Also picked up Ultimate Spider-Man #3, Ultimate X-Men #2, and Punisher #4. Punisher continues to be one of the best books Marvel is publishing, along with one of the best Punisher books. Both the Ultimate books were highly enjoyable, and are exactly what the Ultimate line needed after Loeb.