27 Nov 2011

Mini Reviews 27/11/2011

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: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Lenil Francis Yu, Farel Dalrymple and Various
Marvel $7.99

Matt C: I’ve been supporting Hickman’s take on the Fantastic Four from the get go even amidst the criticism that his approach was too plodding and the pay offs seemed few and far between. It worked for me though: it was brave and ambitious with a keen focus on both Hickman’s trademark ‘big ideas’ and the dynamic of Marvel’s well-loved First Family. I enjoyed the transition from the Fantastic Four title to it’s new incarnation as FF but after a few quality issues it started to feel like it was losing its way. Hickman had been quite adept at juggling several balls at once but somewhere – and I can’t put my finger on exactly where – it started to look like the story was getting crushed by the sheer weight of so many ideas and plotlines. Consequently I read this hefty comic with a feeling of detachment; a lot was happening on the page but I just couldn’t get engaged. There’s no denying it’s good value for money – it’s all original content – and that there’s some fine artistry on display (Epting in particular) but there’s so much going on that a lot of it starts to register as background noise. The second story works the best but I think I’ve reached (gone beyond?) the point where my interest has waned too much. And that’s a shame. I’ll give it a couple more issues as I’ve invested a lot in this story already (and I’ll probably give the continuation of FF a look) but I think some streamlining and resolutions are needed quite urgently. Fifty years on and these characters still endure, and will endure for a long time to come, but right now my faith is wavering. 5/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend & Jaime Mendoza
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: A little while back I wrote an article about Marvel writer’s reluctance to take Bobby Drake and put him front and centre. Well, Rick Remender has made a few little pokes about Iceman’s potential in his Uncanny X-Force title since then and it seems that now Jason Aaron is going to give him the chance that he deserves. I really like the flashback discussion between Bobby and Logan that kicks off this second issue and it sets the mood tremendously well for when we’re returned to the crazy Westchester carnage that is unfolding on the Jean Grey School’s opening day. Unlike a book where Cyclops calls the shots with tactical precision, Wolverine has a more rough and ready way of handling things and therefore everything tends to be about instinct and survival and that makes for compelling entertainment. As a result of the somewhat improvisational nature of their leader’s retaliation so too is the mutants’ response to the Hellfire Club’s attack and the chaos is suitably aided by Bachalo’s unique style. Whereas the first issue was Bachalo holding back and using standard and simple panelling predominantly during the sedate build up - to an awesome degree I’ll add - things get a little bit loose and a little confusing in places this time as he gets to play with the format. There are one or two pages where I think it’s clear that Townsend hasn’t been inking and with keeping to a schedule something of a difficulty, I’m not convinced that Bachalo needs to be colouring every issue he pencils as well. Those quibbles aside this still adds to a great start for the newest X-title on the block and makes for a fun read... and hey, what about that kiss?? 8/10

James R: My slow conversion to the X-Men cause continues - after being won over Uncanny X-Force I now count myself firmly as a fan of this title. On the face of it, it shouldn't work - Wolverine...again? As a headmaster? - but Jason Aaron delivers a comic that has page after page of surprises. From the weapons of the new Hellfire Club to Bobby Drake unleashing his Iceman powers to a whole new level, this book is fast and ambitious. What pleased me was that Aaron juggles his cast well (the hardest element of any team book) and pitches the book perfectly - it's accessible for those who are still relative newcomers to the X-Universe whilst giving plenty for old fans too. Chris Bachalo excels at delivering Helzapoppin' chaos, though sometimes there's so much going on in each panel it's a little difficult to see what's happening. All in all though, I can't wait to see where this title goes next. And we're not even at the end of the first school day! 9/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Rod Reis
DC $2.99

Matt C: I think, more than anything else, what’s really been keeping this book on my pull list up to this point is the terrific, vigorous artwork from Reis. It really is an impressive sight, detailed to a level where it becomes fully immersive. This is not to say Johns is slacking in the scripting department, but he’s been keeping things fairly straightforward so far, not really digging in deeper into who these characters are (we’ve learnt that Aquaman is considered a bit of a joke to the public at large but not much beyond that). That’s fair enough because he’s been letting Reis do his thing with the action-dominated scenes featuring the arc’s relentless, cannibalistic bad guys. There are signs here though that Johns is starting to flesh out this new iteration of Aquaman with poignant flashbacks and visit to a past acquaintance who’s not been able to get past a very specific obsession, and these signs add to the feeling that this series is developing into keeper. It’s the best issue yet and I have confidence that it’ll get better still. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Things start off this week as they did some three years ago with Zeke Stane blowing things up in certain corners of the globe and it’s a relief to see him back to be honest. Fraction makes the smart choice and lingers with Fear Itself for just the briefest of moments as the 'Demon' arc begins and it solidifies his choice to bring Splitlip to Stark Resilient and the world of Midgard. It brings with it the opportunity for a little ‘fish out of water’ comedy as the gruff, dwarf weaponsmith gets to see the factory that he’ll inevitably be working in and also joins Tony at an AA meeting. Despite the upturn that Tony was making following his body and mind rebuild a couple of years back it’s interesting to see him continue to make poor decisions and not fully deliver on promises made to people close to him. It’ll no doubt really come to bite him in the ass as he faces a united group of enemies who, on the basis of their actions here, will not be pulling any punches when they come face to face. There’s not much that I haven’t said about Salvador Larroca’s art on this title before so I’ll just add that he does full justice to a Greg Land-like ‘damsel in distress’ panel in this issue, that’s for sure! It looks like we’re back on track as Tony’s life heads a little off-road. 8/10

Writers: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
DC $2.99

James R: Wow. For most of this month, I've been enthusing people to take a look at this book, as Manapul and Buccellato are doing an outstanding job here, and in this issue they get even better – they’re displaying a talent that only the best comics professionals have, and that's the ability to stretch the medium and do interesting and innovative things with it. This month Barry has to deal with the effects of the EMP pulse as well as stop the gang known as Mob Rule. This seems standard enough but there are a multitude of brilliant flourishes here culminating in an outstanding final page. I don't want to spoil anything, but while the finale is inevitably a misdirection, it’s a jaw-dropping one. This creative team are setting a brilliant benchmark; in this era where seemingly every comic becomes a movie, here is a title that reminds us of what it is that's unique about comics, and provides a hurricane of entertainment for $2.99. Bravo to everyone involved in this, it's worthy of maximum marks from me... 10/10

Writer: Enrique Carrion
Art: John Upchurch
Image $2.99

Stewart R: It’s proof that we get an awful lot of reading material in each issue of Carrion’s Vescell every month as I was genuinely surprised to see that it was only #4 that I would be picking up this past Wednesday. This instalment is no different in that respect but what is a little surprising is that Carrion doesn’t seem - at this juncture at least - to be progressing the main thrust of the story a great deal and the same could be said of the last chapter. What we get here is a rather screwed up sibling fall out between a pop star struggling with her fame and her brother who’s jealous of the opportunity that she’s received and seems to be all too willing to throw away. This leads to a dodgy V-trans operation that Moo Barrino ends up having to investigate and from their it’s shootout central. There’s definitely a feeling of NSFW (Not Safe For Work) about this title and that’s certainly proven with some rather brutal sexual content that took me a little by surprise. What was more surprising was the brutal way that Carrion throws metaphors and similies all over the place in the dialogue this time and unfortunately it distracts from what could have been an interesting plot. Things do remain interesting as Barrino and Lieutenant Vega cross paths and hopefully this should kick-start some decent plot progression next time. Disappointing but hopefully only a blip. 6/10

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Marc Andreyko
Art: Chris Samnee & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: A “new creative team” is apparently due to arrive next issue (although it looks like Brubaker will still be involved) which seems a bit early because, if I’m brutally honest, the current creative team haven’t done their job yet! And it started off so well! The problem isn’t specifically the quality of the writing (generally good) or the art (Samnee’s retro style has suited these tales perfectly) but instead it’s the speed atf which we’ve zipped through Bucky’s pre-resurrection life. I figured we’d see this creative team concentrate a little more on Bucky’s wartime escapades but there seems to have been a concerted rush to get him to the position of Winter Soldier and beyond. There’ve been some fine sequences but too often – and with this issue in particular – there’s something of a throwaway feeling to the endeavour. I expected a lot more from this ‘new’ series and it hasn’t really delivered what the first couple of issues seemed to promise. Whether I’ll be back for this new creative team is something I’ve not decided on yet. 5/10

Writer: Paul Jenkins & David Finch
Art: David Finch, Richard Friend & Jeromy Cox
DC $2.99

James R: Last week I expressed my admiration for Scott Snyder's take on Batman which is currently taking the familiar tropes of Batman's world and moving them forward to brilliant effect. The only problem with this is that it makes any other Bat-book seem, well, not Batman by comparison! There's not much wrong with this issue - in fact it's the best issue of the title's short life to date - but while Batman feels like it's sprinting along, this more of a jog. Batman continues to investigate the amped-up toxin that's causing his rogue's gallery to be even more of a threat than usual, whilst investigating the mysterious White Rabbit and squeezing in time for a date. As a fully paid-up Bat-fan, I really enjoyed reading this, but it's not quite knocking me out yet. If you want to get yourself some Batman you could do worse than this (I'm looking at you Detective Comics!) but you can also do a lot better - I'll leave it to your wallets to decide! 7/10

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Michael WM. Kaluta, Chris Chuckry, Rick Greary & Bryan Talbot
DC $2.99

Matt C: The first in a series of ‘Point Five’ issues due over the next five months (meaning Unwritten basically becomes a twice-monthly book) that delve into the world beyond the Tommy Taylor plotline, dealing with the secret cabal’s machinations across the ages. This issue’s split into three separate, but interlinked, tales that shine a light on how the cabal’s manipulation of the written word has changed through the centuries. Each tale is illustrated by a different artist, and while their styles differ, they unify to create an entirely satisfying whole. Carey brings a level of literate intelligence to the proceedings that could put a lot of his contemporaries to shame, and again shows just how potent and profound his central idea – the power of the written word – is when placed in his assured hands. Ingenious. 9/10

Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Nick Dragotta & Brad Simpson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’ve a feeling that this series has passed a good many of you by but I can’t recommend it enough. I never thought I’d be too concerned by the adventures of the Teen Brigade but Casey has really managed to capture my attention with some keen storytelling, decent involvement of some of Marvel’s prime villains and also the odd matter of the heart dotted around. Ms America’s unplanned trip to a mysterious dimension of the dead is terrific fun and demonstrates her never-say-die attitude while I really felt for Ultimate Nullifier and the Black Knight, caught on two sides of the moral coin and being so wary of the situation that they are forced to shrug their dalliance off as nothing more than a moment of attraction and weakness. Against all the fun stands a rather stark picture of just how evil the Red Skull is and was and the three pages of black and white flashback that Dragotta provides really shows artist and writer working well as a team. Though the Teen Brigade’s actions may slip under the radar I urge all of you to make sure that this series doesn’t slip under yours! 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano & Jose Villarrubia
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Up to this point I haven’t been particularly wowed by what Ellis has been doing during his brief stint on this title. It’s very much felt like Ellis on autopilot (not always a bad thing) and, as others have suggested, it’s essentially giving his done-in-one Global Frequency concept a spin in the Marvel Universe. I’m not going to argue that he changes tack here, because as far as I can tell, he doesn’t, and the central idea isn’t dramatically superior to those we’ve seen in the last few issues. The thing that made this issue work far more than the others have is the art. I’ve been a big fan of Michael Lark’s for a long while, and when he partners up with Stefano Gaudiano you know the results are likely to be spectacular, which is most definitely the case here. And, after all, comics are a visual medium, so just as a mediocre artist can suck the life out of a good script, so can a stellar artist push a decent script up several levels where it can be deemed as nothing less than awesome. Just look at the choreography on display during the brilliant two-page sequence where Steve Rogers first tackles a foreign goon – it’s fluid, exciting and utterly magnetic. If you’ve read any of Ellis’ scripts you know he’s quite descriptive when it comes to how he wants the pages to look, but that shouldn’t detract from the magic Lark weaves with his imagery throughout the issue. I had been get a bit disgruntled with this title and considering knocking it on the head – thank God I didn’t make a rash decision! A fine of example of how the combination of words and pictures can pin you to your seat for the duration. 9/10

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