8 Jan 2012

Mini Reviews 08/01/2012

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.


FATALE #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Dave Stewart
Image $3.50

Matt C: You only have to turn to the first page to realise you’re in familiar territory. The publisher may have changed (from Marvel’s Icon imprint across to Image) but Brubaker and Phillips are weaving the same kind of magic that they always do. For a frame of reference this is much closer in tone to the straight-up noir of Criminal than the superheroes-with-a-dash-of-noir IncognitoFatale is basically noir-with-a-dash-of-the-supernatural. The occult weirdness that Brubaker introduces to the plot here works very well in the context, and although the same familiar tropes are being utilized, they’re handled with such assurance that you don’t once get distracted by a feeling that you’ve been there, done that. Phillips’ art once again fizzles in the shadows, every panel pregnant with danger, and the subject matter means he gets to effectively sprinkle viscera at important juncture. Predictably, Fatale turns out to be another winner from this creative team, but even though the quality seemed to be preordained, don’t get the impression that this book won’t keep you on your toes. 8/10

James R: There are very few things that are truly a certainty in life, but when Brubaker and Philips team up on a crime tale, you can guarantee a quality comic. Fans of the duo's Criminal or Incognito should know what to expect here - a pitch-perfect noir tale with a twist. With Incognito, they fused elements of superhero pulp into the tale of murder, double-cross and femme fatales, and now it's the turn of another popular 20th century pulp favourite - Lovecraftian horror. It's a smart 'story within a story' as we join Nicolas Lash reading his recently-departed godfather's unpublished first manuscript... which features the same seemingly ageless dame who has just turned Lash's life upside down" This first issue is obviously setting the scene for what's to come, and the creative team produce an read which oozes class (along with a nice sense of creeping terror.) My only reservation at the moment is that the last Criminal tale didn't finish with the same brilliance that it began with, and I just hope this doesn't do the same. On this evidence though, it's another solid win for the gang from the bad side of town. 8/10


ANIMAL MAN #5
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Travel Foreman, Steve Pugh, Jeff Huet & Lovern Kindzierski
DC $2.99

James R: Ugh! Creepy! Just when I thought I knew exactly what to expect from Animal Man, Jeff Lemire cranks up the freaky valve to 'beyond disturbing'! This is a more terrifying read than a lot of DC's Vertigo books; from the cover which depicts Maxine having eaten Buddy's face(!) to the foul moments when the Rot get their, well, not hands, but disgusting fleshy mandibles on Buddy and his wife, this book is horror done properly. I'm always an advocate of the 'less is more' school when it comes to horror in films - things are always more terrifying when left to the imagination - but this book shows how comics can surpass horror movies and books. The visual image is the one which hits hardest, and Travel Foreman and Steve Pugh deliver in spades, illustrating horrors which are both surreal and grotesque in equal measure. It's also a book with a great narrative pace: Buddy gets back within the first four pages to face off against the Rot, giving us an issue of breathless confrontation and leading to a conclusion which - as an acknowledged boss-eyed fan of Messieurs Snyder and Lemire - makes me want to punch the air with fanboy excitement. Scary, rapid and utterly memorable - this part of DC's New 52 has yet to put a foot wrong for me. 9/10

Matt C: Surely that’s got to be one of the most graphic covers ever to grace a regular DC title?! It’s certainly not a pretty picture but it’s one hell of a striking image! Once you get inside to the story you’re confronted with a real sense of urgency as Buddy Baker scrabbles to save his family the Rot. Lemire impresses with his ability to keep things constantly moving, building up the sense of dread until it almost becomes unbearable. It’s Foreman’s art that really kicks things up a notch though, his ‘body horror’ imagery being some of the most unsettling you’re likely to see in a mainstream comic book. One of the clear winners of DC’s New 52, and you get the sense that the best is yet to come. 8/10


X-CLUB #2
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Paul Davidson & Rochelle Rosenberg
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Buy this comic! And the one before it! And the three more to follow in the next few months! I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I figured that this issue would be a big old dose of mutated monster fighting mayhem following the arrival of a myriad of beasties at the end of #1 but Spurrier instead jumps forward to a point where the immediate threat has been averted and the X-Club are now tasked with investigating just where the twisted leviathans and crustaceans have originated. This actually makes perfect sense as this is not a book about X-Men where every day is a big old pugilistic fight, this is X-Club where knowledge, intelligence and reasoning are called into action to tackle the bigger problems. The changes occurring in Danger and Madison Jeffries - one subtle, one not so much - remain mysterious for now and I’m looking forward to witnessing how these develop. Likewise I’m enjoying Dr Rao finding a more sensitive edge to her usually terse bedside manner. The real fun here though is what happens to Dr Nemesis and how it affects the rest of the issue. To go into details would ruin the glorious surprise, but I will go so far as to say that it’s a superb comedic touch which actually helps to raise the tension in the latter stages as well as give us a new perspective on the self-evolved genius. In a week of high quality this stands out as book of the week for me. 9/10


WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN: ALPHA & OMEGA #1
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Roland Boschi, Dan Brown, Mark Brooks, Andrew Currie, Jay Leisten, Norman Lee & Ronda Pattison
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’ve kind of sworn off Marvel miniseries recently (it’s what happens when they get cancelled halfway through!) but one name was enough to bring me back for this one: Brian Wood. He’s spent the last few years putting out a variety of decidedly ‘indie’ projects for Vertigo so I was very interested in what he would do back in the realm of mainstream superheroes. Spinning out of the pages of Jason Aaron’s newly launched (and rather good) Wolverine & The X-Men, Wood does a fine job of snapping the focus onto Quentin Quire, allowing us to get a further insight into the depth of hatred he holds for Wolverine, and the length he will go extract revenge for all the perceived slights he’s weathered. The choice of two artistic teams to tackle both the real and the imagined worlds works for me and Wood approaches the script with his usual intelligence, littering it with some delicious dialogue and inventive plot points. As always, the price point doesn’t seem entirely justified, but the book’s good enough for me to stick around, assuming Marvel don’t cancel it before the end! 7/10


VESCELL #5
Writer: Enrique Carrion
Art: John Upchurch
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The cover suggests that the plot of this latest issue is going to be a bizarre one and that’s proven to be the case once you get reading the entertaining innards from Carrion and Upchurch. The creators are managing to come up with some brilliant single episode ideas for a world where soul-swapping is a reality and at the same time weave quite the intricate web throughout the series as various parties and organisations try to keep their various skeletons in the closet and tie-off troublesome loose ends. Hazel, the young woman at the centre of this month’s trippy investigation, has an interesting arc which seems a little erratic as it pans out initially, but following a second read-through the realisation of what’s occurring slots firmly into place. The interactions between Moo, his spiritually displaced squeeze Avery and the brusk Vega are also great fun and Carrion has delivered a fresh feel with the open, yet loving relationship Moo and Avery exhibit throughout. The Hitler inclusion does feel a little like an easy shot, though it is tempered with a compelling victim story, and I’m still left feeling that we’re not getting much character growth or development with the main protagonist. Here’s hoping that we get to learn a bit more about Mauricio other than his ability to indulge nearly every woman in their carnal fantasy soon. 7/10


FLASH GORDON: ZEITGEIST #2
Writer: Eric Trautmann & Alex Ross
Art: Daniel Indro, Slamet Mujiono & Alex Ross
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99

Matt C: If you were perhaps looking for a modern, highbrow reinvention of the Flash Gordon legend then you may be left wanting as Trautmann and Ross have gone straight back to the roots of the pulp hero. In a sense that means we have an essentially “disposable product” that’s unlikely to make any profound impact on the comics medium, but then many enjoyable books have fit snugly into that criteria in the past – they may not linger long in the memory, but for the duration they’re a blast! Plenty of it’s very familiar to anyone who’s had experience with the character in the past, but it’s handled with enough flair to hold its own, and while the inclusion of Der F├╝hrer may be a bit corny it does offer the potential for the creators to take this down a different path. Flash himself does seem a bit underwritten at this stage but there’s enough going on of interest for me to hang around, for the first arc at least. 7/10


ACTION COMICS #5
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Brad Anderson
DC $3.99

James R: Five issues in and Grant Morrison takes Action Comics up a gear. Last month we were left with the cliffhanger of Brainiac having taken away a large swathe of Metropolis, but for now that story takes a back seat. This issue reveals Superman's new origin - well, I say new; the elements are still those which we know and love. The story is mostly told from the perspective of Kal-El's transport to Earth, which neatly introduces us to the Kents, the Phantom Zone, General Zod and the rightfully curious military tracking the Alien craft. It's delivered with Morrison's trademark skill, and just when you think we're in for just the origin story, we're shifted forward to the present day of the New 52, and a plan to defeat Superman and the Anti-Superman army! By the end of the issue, Morrison has two plots running in tandem, and it does what all monthly comics should do - it makes me impatient and excited to see just what's going to happen next. It's great to see that Morrison's love for the character, so evident in All-Star Superman, is keeping this title a top-draw read. 8/10


THUNDERBOLTS #168
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Matthew Southworth & Frank Martin Jr
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: With everything that has happened with the Thunderbolts over the past couple of years I’m glad that Parker has finally taken the opportunity to start addressing Luke Cage’s prolonged periods of absence from the team. It’s clear that this has been a selected plot point as it could have been easy enough to just have the audience accept that Luke Cage can be in as many teams and places at the same time as Spider-Man and Wolverine manage to be. By going along this route, Parker gets to explore the heavy feeling of responsibility that Cage feels for not being able to maintain control of his team and accentuates that further by having Songbird and Mach V trying to defend the work that they and Luke have done in the face of troubling bureaucratic decision made by the ‘suits’ in charge. Yes, we’ve seen similar personal analysis pieces like this before but Parker wraps the whole thing together so damn well and brings much of his history on the book back into view while doing it. This allows Southworth to engage in some neat visual storytelling as the two plot threads magically weave in and out of each other panel to panel and he’s another good fit for this book. I’m not entirely sold on the fact that Parker seems to back out from a really interesting plot twist at the last minute but then perhaps I should be glad that we have a writer here who is not afraid of shunning the expected! 8/10

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