6 Nov 2011

Mini Reviews 06/11/2011

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: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Without getting all spoilery, this is essentially an issue of Captain America with ‘Fear Itself’ plastered on the front. It does lead directly on from the events of the miniseries (one event in particular) but beyond that it has nothing to do with the Serpent or Asgard so calling it Fear Itself #7.1 seems purely designed to boost sales. I’d probably moan a little more about what initially appears to be a blatant marketing exercise if the contents of the issue didn’t slap a big ol’ smile on my face. Basically what Brubaker does here is undo one of the worst crimes perpetrated by Fear Itself. Looking at it now, it was obviously always meant to be this way, and I expect some folks will feel cheated by the twist, but Fraction handled the initial scenes so badly, and with such a lack of emotion, that there’s no way I’m giving him a pass now. So let’s ignore that, and concentrate on a comic that gives Brubaker and Guice (at his moody best) the chance to get a new ball rolling, one that will please readers who’ve been enjoying what Brubaker has been doing with the Star Spangled section of the Marvel Universe over the last five or so years. Be excited. 8/10

Stewart R: Even with the slightly bitter aftertaste lingering in the mouth following Fear Itself there are the odd delicious moments that still stand out - see Fear Itself: The Deep and Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force - and, with this effort by Brubaker and company, are still surfacing. I’ll remain spoiler free here (while the rest of the internet has found that difficult this week) for those that may still be waiting for a copy and simply say that this is one of those reads that is more likely to leave you with a wry smile on your face rather than shouting a triumphant ‘YES’ and part of that is down to Brubaker’s keen handling of all characters involved. He deals with Steve Roger’s grief process so well, both in sadness and in anger, and wraps that up with the complicated relationship between him and Nick Fury. The art from Guice and Breitweiser is pure visual chocolate and I can’t remember the last time that scenes in rainy weather were so well illustrated. All in all a damn fine sign off for Cap’s involvement in Fear Itself and 2012 certainly looks tantalising for Brubaker and Guice’s upcoming project following this. 9/10

Writer: Gabriel Hardman & Corinna Sara Bechko
Art: Gabriel
Hardman & Jordie Bellaire
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Simon M: What a start to a miniseries! I thought the current ongoing Apes series was good, but this has pushed the franchise to a whole new level. The story starts with a prologue of sorts set 20 years before the first film and then moves 15 years forward. It’s more of a political thriller than the main book, but it captures your imagination straight from the off. Former General Aleron is now a liaison to the Ape Council and finds himself defending his friend Dr Cato after he has taught his human slave, Tern, to communicate with sign language. Citizen Aleron manages to successfully defend Dr.Cato which then sets a cascade of events into motion culminating in the death of Cato and the escape of Tern. Aleron then finds himself in the sights of the military and may have to answer for war crimes from 15 years previously that have only just come to light. This is superbly paced and written and you can't help but find yourself caring about the characters from the beginning. Hardman's art is a perfect match for Apes. If you're a fan of the franchise, read it - if you're not a fan, this will make you one! 9/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith & Frank D'Armata
Marvel $3.99

Mike S: So here is Cyclops' heavy hitters team - the Extinction team - and in terms of raw power I suppose it fits the bill. It’s a solidly written, solidly drawn and solidly paced story but, to be honest, it left me kind of cold. It has all of the right ingredients but something didn't quite gel for me with. Maybe it's just that the Celestial bores me, or that Sinister isn't my choice of villain, or that I really don't like some of the characters (I mean you Hope and Danger!), or maybe it is just that Pacheco's art is not up to its usual strength, but there is something slightly off. Yes, there were bits I enjoyed: Magik is going to be a great addition to the team and I liked Storm's comment about hands-up-who-hasn't-been-a-villain, as well as the use of Magneto - always good to see - but otherwise it left me underwhelmed as a first issue. Sure, I'll be back for more, but it doesn't live up to the hype they attempted to generate with this relaunch. Or have I just got too jaded? 6/10

Writer: Michael Le Gailli
Art: Francis Manapul & Christelle Moulart
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I’m a great supporter of Euro-comics being translated for the English-speaking market so this blipped on my radar instantly, doubly so thanks to Manapul’s listing as artist since he’s currently doing fantastic work on Flash. It’s pretty fine art from him here too, although the style is a lot less distinctive compared to his recent stuff. So that aspect gets the thumbs up, it’s just a shame the script doesn’t operate at the same level. It’s historical fiction that utilizes a fairly standard plot (badasses hired to escort incognito royalty to safety in the midst of a war) but flings us so quickly into the meat of the story that we don’t get any time to get to know any of the characters, and they generally come across as nothing more than cannon fodder for the next action sequence. Seeing that this is only a three-part tale, I can’t see that situation improving, so this one isn’t getting a second chance. 4/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez & Val Staples
Marvel $2.99

Mike S: I am a dedicated and devoted fan of the original New Mutants run and have enjoyed (on the whole) the current title. The same is true of this issue - I enjoyed it on the whole. It isn't perfect though; it feels kind of characters-by-numbers at times, some of the artwork is a bit off (Cypher looks emaciated!) and the basic premise is a bit tired now - why do they choose to go where they go? It takes an entire issue to decide when really I would just have sooner they'd got on with the hunt for Blink. Therein lies the problem - it feels like filler and, in all honesty, it probably is. It's not awful - there are some nice character beats, especially with Moonstar and Karma, and the inclusion and depowering of Nate Grey might be interesting, but it needs to pick the pace up a little. Here's hoping for more next issue! 6/10

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

Matt C: This has got to be the most messed up, disturbing mainstream DC title on the stands right now; it also happens to be one of the best, and I’m still not entirely sure if those two things are related! Either way, it’s a tense read that regularly ventures into horror territory to startling effect. It’s not your regular slasher/spooky type of horror though – this is the kind of body horror that David Cronenberg was such a brilliant proponent of, where the human form is warped and stretched into almost unrecognisable shapes that have the power to unnerve because there’s enough of a hint of what they should look like remaining. Foreman is really excelling here at creating hideous imagery and Lemire has things moving at enough of a pace to ensure it remains a compulsive read. Perhaps longtime fans of the character will baulk at the new origin, but as I a new passenger on the Animal Man train, I’m loving this. 8/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Stefano Caselli & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Spider Island, it could be argued, was the one Marvel event to have worked this summer and that’s thanks to Dan Slott knowing just how Peter Parker fits into the Marvel Universe and when we need to see things from his perspective looking out, and then when we need to take a Watcher’s eye view at the world looking at him. With the spider carnage that gripped New York now fading and almost every New Yorker, hero and civilian alike, knowing what it’s like to walk in Spider-Man’s shoes, Slott takes the chance to remind us that while Peter has been going through something of a golden patch in his private life, things can get complicated and rotten all too quickly. I like the way that he manages to write his way around the Brand New Day magic of Dr Strange and the results should hopefully prove to be a point of interest heading into next year. Slott also has a great handle on the Spidey/Madame Web relationship and it’s fun to be as frustrated by her vague prophesying as Peter is. Caselli does a damn fine job on art as usual and the back and forth team of he and Humberto Ramos will hopefully be on this book for a while to come. 8/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Christian Ward
Image $3.50

James R: Nick Spencer continues to establish himself as a talent to watch with another retina-searing, brain-stretching issue of Infinite Vacation. This month we learn why our protagonist Mark is being hunted down as Spencer fleshes out the philosophy behind the Singularist movement. In between this high-order storytelling, the writer also shows he as a taste for the macabre as the psychotic version of Mark is unleashed on, well, the other Marks! (Trust me, it makes sense if you read it!) In the early issues I was knocked out by Christian Ward's art, and he certainly maintains the high standards here, but I'm also impressed by the mix of illustrative media the creative team have opted for - photo, standard comic art and web pages. This isn't new by any means (The Unwritten has been playing the web page card for a couple of years now) but it does hang together really well. My only reservation at the moment is how Spencer is going to wrap all this up - he's only got two issues left, and there are a lot of plates spinning! That worry aside, this is a distinctive and smart read - I'm pleased to be in one of the universes where Image commissioned this title! 9/10

Matt C: The slow release schedule may break the narrative flow of this tale more than I’d like, but once I get stuck in I’m finding more and more to enjoy about this series. Spencer does push things close to the edge in this issue though, with a graphically violent (and sexually violent) sequence that is somewhat stomach-churning, but he earns the right to make us feel queasy due to the ingeniousness of his plot and the way his ear for dialogue makes his characters come alive. I’m no quantum physicist (obviously!) so the ‘One Universe’ theory Spencer lays out here may not hold up to scrutiny by the experts, but once I got my head around it I have to say it’s pretty damn clever, especially in this context. The combination of Ward’s colourful, imaginative artistic style and those surprisingly effective photographic interludes continues to work in this title’s favour, making it a fervent and frenzied read at times. When the end product impresses like this, I don’t mind waiting a little longer for it to arrive. 8/10

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

Stewart R: Winick turns the action dial up a notch this month as David fights for his and wounded retired hero Thunder Fall’s lives against the unrelenting Massacre. He starts things off with a very interesting insight into David’s past as a child soldier in an African militia that will no doubt be looked at in greater detail as the series progresses. From that point it’s all action as Batwing tries to use his technological advantage to overcome his bloodthirsty foe before either a machete or his own wounds defeat him. This straightforward sequence allows Oliver to really come to the fore and his use of angles, panel layout and shading adds an extra layer of intensity to the fight scenes giving the reader a terrific ‘Where is he? Where is he?’ tension when Massacre is not in view. It’s something of a shame that we get a change of artist next issue but I’ve a suspicion that we’ve reached a juncture where that may coincide with a flashback instalment. We shall see but either way Batwing has been one of the true successes of DC’s relaunch so far. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Matt Kindt
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: While our reviews have - naturally - focused on a lot of the New 52 from DC recently, it's easy to forget that outside of their seismic shift, Vertigo are continuing to produce incredible comics, and for me Sweet Tooth continues to be the best ongoing monthly book published anywhere. Why? Well, in it's usual form Jeff Lemire has created a compelling post-apocalyptic world filled with characters who are complex individuals in a brilliant ongoing mystery. However, at the moment the book is in the midst of an exceptional interlude, as Matt Kindt fills in on artistic duties for a tale from a century ago; what started as a story about a missionary lost in the arctic circle has opened up to reveal new clues about the plague that has decimated mankind in the present day narrative. It's added an extra mystical layer to the world of Sweet Tooth which has made it an even richer tale, and after the revelations of this issue, I can't begin to guess what Lemire's grand finale might be. Every time I read Sweet Tooth, it resonates with me long after the final page, and I can think of no higher praise for this exceptional series. 9/10

Writer: Charles M. Schulz, Ron Zorman, Vicki Scott
Art: Charles M. Schulz, Ron Zorman, Lisa Moore, Vicki Scott & Paige Braddock
Kaboom! $1.00

Stewart R: I like a good bit of comic or cartoon nostalgia from time to time and I was intrigued to hear that BOOM! imprint Kaboom! had been given the Schulz estate’s blessing to create new comic strip material for the classic Peanuts gang. This $1.00 preview issue gives us a taste of what we can expect and it’s interesting to see how this might work. The new material from Zorman and Scott maintains that simple, fun feel that the series is known for but has been written for the modern comic format instead of the single page ‘comic strip’ method that Schulz employed for the majority of his work. The art from the Kaboom! guys stays faithful to that familiar style we’re all used to while also allowing the creators a little freedom to use the multiple page format at their disposal. There are laughs aplenty to be had in the latest efforts and should certainly appeal to kids and longtime fans alike. It seems that we’re going to be treated to classic Schulz strips as well, and while some may end up bemoaning the inclusion of material that they already own or have seen before I think it adds a nice comparison to gauge the fresh laughs by. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what we get in the series proper and don’t think I’ll be suffering a Peanuts allergy any time soon! 7/10

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

James R: Three months in and Snyder really hits his stride on Swamp Thing. Alec Holland and Abigail Arcane join forces as we learn about the rise of The Black - the decay that stands in opposition to The Green. We also get introduced to William, a boy who seems at first to be someone deserving of our sympathy - he's trapped in a bubble stricken with an allergy to chlorophyl, but by the end of the issue we learn that he's a threat to all life on Earth. Once again, the issue looks great, with superb panel layout and design. Ibanez does a grand job helping out Yanick Paquette - I wasn't even aware that the art duties had been split until I got to the final page. It's still early days, but Snyder is showing that, as with Batman, he has a fine grasp of what makes this a legendary comic, and isn't afraid to add his own sophisticated take on the characters. 8/10

X-MEN #20
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Will Conrad & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $3.99

Mike S: Another new line up (Storm, Psylocke, Jubilee, Domino, Colossus and Warpath) and another Sentinels story. So far, so familiar, but this title starts well and the mix of characters is both refreshing and interesting - it's about time Storm and Colossus were front and centre, along with Warpath. But there's still a potential problem and it's the age old one of the X-Universe: continuity! We have Storm and Colossus on two teams in different books at the same time and I like to know where and how things fit! (And when Storm then joins the Avengers...??) Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed this issue and I really liked the characterisation of all concerned but with all the X-characters to choose from there could have been more diversity. On the plus side, I loved the art from Will Conrad - echoes of Deodato in places and the regal Storm was great - about time too! A nice, tight first issue, nice artwork and some interesting characterisation for a pretty strong mix of personalities! 7/10

No comments: