15 Jan 2012

Mini Reviews 15/01/2012

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.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: My initial reluctance has metamorphosised into what could well be full-blown love because this issue of Wolverine & The X-Men delivers outstanding comic book entertainment. After a lengthy span away from the X-Franchise I was drawn back in, albeit via a darker path, by Uncanny X-Force, but I honestly couldn’t see myself getting any further than that as the frequently pompous tone and sometimes impenetrable continuity didn’t hold any appeal. Bravo then, Jason Aaron, for bringing back a level of fun, excitement and intelligence that – outside of Uncanny X-Force – I’ve not seen in an X-book for a long time. The humour’s one of the obvious selling points but midway through Aaron throws in a look into the future that, while not an original trick for an X-Men story, is handled in such a concise but thrilling manner that it literally had me pausing for breath. It helps that it all ties in neatly with Uncanny X-Force and it’s very pleasing to see that Aaron and Rick Remender are obviously swapping notes to keep a sense of cohesion running through both their books. Bradshaw takes over from Bachalo here and although his style is quite different, the strength of Aaron’s writing seems to indicate that as long as his has a decent artist in tow the results are likely to be spectacular (although I’d always prefer consistency!). 2012’s only just begun but this is already looking like one of the series to follow for the next 12 months. 10/10

Stewart R: So Chris Bachalo is off getting future issues of W&TXM prepared and in steps Nick Bradshaw with the first issue of his run. It’s at a time like this, when a favourite artist comes off a book, where I start to assess and realise the true quality of the writing on a comic. It’s fair to say that Aaron’s writing stands up well to this test as he covers a good half dozen plot threads here but manages to keep things pretty tight in the process. The arrival of Genesis and Angel at the school brings up a host of different issues and Aaron does well to take these Uncanny X-Force characters and make them a proper part of this very different comic. While the Deathlok scene in the classroom is fun and demonstrates the uncertain times ahead for everyone I’m not fully convinced by the later blink into the future showing a potential team of X-Men fighting one of their own as it seems just a touch forced in its narrow focus. The scenes involving Bobby and Logan clashing over Angel/Warren’s reappearance at the school are very well handled though and they’re helped by some very neat expression and character work from Bradshaw. From the cliffhanger we’re left with it looks like the fun will certainly continue next month! 8/10

James R: Four issues in and this title really finds it's feet. I was won over by Aaron's new X-title from the first issue, but after the Hellzapoppin' opening arc, where the book felt fit to burst under the intensity of introducing the status quo, characters and insane action, this is the issue that's pushed me from liking it to loving it! I have to confess and say my real-world alter-ego is a teacher, and so I'd notice if Aaron's representation of teaching's trials and tribulations felt forced or false, but he gets it bang on. From Logan's desire not to screw up, to Rachel Grey's desire to see some of the student body lobotomised, these are all conversations you'll hear in a real life staff room, let alone at an X-school! The pupils themselves also make for a terrific secondary cast, and it reminded me of Joe Casey's brilliant but short-lived book The Intimates. That title also did a great job at capturing the gossip and politics of teenagers while keeping a veneer of intrigue, and it's brilliant to see that same craft shown here. As an extra bonus, it's also funny in places - Deathlok's future history class being case in point. I enjoyed this issue from start to finish, and running in tandem with Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force, it is shaping up to be an exceptional year for Marvel's mutants. 9/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina
DC $2.99

Stewart R: This is one of the most promising of the DC New 52 titles yet one of the most frustrating in the same breath. Johns hasn’t had to turn the world of the Green Lanterns upside down in any ‘reboot’ sense but has timed things so we get a definite shift with Sinestro once again becoming a Green Lantern and the Guardians’ vision seeming to take a turn for the more sinister. The stand out by far has been to see Sinestro start to pause and comprehend the mistakes that he has previously been responsible for, especially involving his home planet of Korugar. To that end this issue stands tallest when the former Yellow Lantern is face to face with his people and Johns does well to show that an accusatory crowd will have many voices and opinions. Unfortunately things tend to start to split at the seams whenever Hal Jordan opens his trap to remind people what a prick Sinestro was and could be seen to be now; it just gets too damn repetitive and boring and is, I’m afraid, making the (main) protagonist of this book actually rather unappealing. I also have an issue with just how darn easy it is for Sinestro to bring his former Corps of fear to an earth-shuddering halt with essentially what amounts to a ‘flick of the switch’. Perhaps I am just a little disappointed that we don’t end up with the cover-to-cover fight for survival that we could have been provided with. This title is not broken, it’s just not firing on all cylinders presently. 6/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: At the beginning of his short run it did feel a lot like Ellis was on autopilot, cooking up a great idea but almost leaving it alone to do it’s own thing without much further input. In hindsight I’m thinking I may have been too harsh, and maybe I need to revisit those initial issues again, but I do feel there was a definite uptick in quality for the final three instalments. For his last-done-in-one issue the team are up against the clock to find a Shadow Council spy inside a O*N*E station, figure out what their plan is and then put an end to it. It’s not quite as inventive as last month’s time-jumping hi-jinx but it’s an exciting, restless read that gives Immonen a much better plot to work with than found in the entirety of the Fear Itself miniseries, and with the assistance of Grawbadger and Sotomayor he absolutely delivers. Potentially this could be Ellis’ last Marvel work for some time; if that’s the case, he’s gone out on a high. 8/10

Writer: Matz
Art: Gael De Meyere
Archaia $3.95

Matt C: This futuristic look at a world where war is marketed as mass entertainment and the most badass of soldiers are celebrities finally reaches its surprising (but not earth-shattering) conclusion. Matz has really impressed me with his hardboiled work on The Killer and Bullet To The Head and while he doesn’t exactly seem out of his depth in the sci-fi genre, Cyclops hasn’t been up to the same standard as his crime comics. That’s not to say it’s a dud because he handles the thriller aspect of the tale very well, but I think he misses a trick on several occasions when he could be making some prescient observations about a future where the concept behind reality television has run amok. The series also suffered from losing Killer artist Luc Jacamon halfway through, but thankfully De Meyere’s artistic style isn’t that far removed from the man he replaced. Despite the gripes it’s been a good read and it’s always pleasing to see a US publisher translating a Euro comic for those of us who didn’t pay attention during French classes at school. 7/10

Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Clayton Crain
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Heh, that is one terrific cover! I’ve resisted the urge to investigate online just what the next three might look like as I’m liking the visual surprises as they come! I’d say that this is a surprisingly good comic but to be honest the creators are simply doing what they do on a regular basis and that is to crank out a decent, entertaining and easy-on-the-eye read. Wells uses this second chapter to remind us of Carnage’s symbiotic weaknesses but also reiterates just how strong he is at the same time. A large portion of the issue is given up to the introduction of other symbiotes being roped into the fight to stop Carnage by the government, and while the team of commandos is a little too ‘Hollywood’ for its own good, I’ve a lot of time for a character like Scorn who seem to have a rich and sombre background. Keeping Spider-Man on the run also keeps things interesting and leads us to the later part of the story which once again takes a turn for the particularly nasty as Cletus Kasady strikes a horrific deal with one of his captors. This is the sort of book that Crain seems to have been born to illustrate as he can capture visceral tendrils and moments of terror like no other. Marvel are once again to be impressing me with their miniseries. 8/10

Writers: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Art: Tonci Zonjic & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics $3.50

James R: By this stage in the game, if you're picking up a book that's part of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe, you'll know the drill - an otherwordly horror begins to attack the everyday world, and it will be up to an idiosyncratic hero to save the day. Whereas I've never quite clicked with B.P.R.D, I absolutely love the Lobster Johnson tales. On one hand, I think it's due to their irregularity - it's always a treat when Mignola dreams up a new case for Hellboy's boyhood hero - and on the other hand, I think it's because I love noirish tales from the ‘20s and ‘30s. This first issue delivers both - beautifully illustrated by Tonci Zonjic (carrying on his fine work in Who Is Jake Ellis?) with colours from Dave Stewart, the issue has a perfect noir feel. The plot itself feels like the first chapter of a hard-boiled mystery cross-pollinated with Scooby Doo: New York is under attack from a ghostly tribe of Native American Indians and investigative journalist Cindy Tynan is coming up against corruption and the mob in her attempt to crack the case. Lobster Johnson himself only makes a cameo appearance in this issue, but that worked for me - we're seeing this story through Cindy's eyes, and the eponymous hero of the book is almost Batmanesque in being part vigilante, part urban legend, and his limited appearances accentuate that. A handsome first issue, and I shall be back to taste the Lobster's claw again next month! 7/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Richard Elson & IFS’s Jessica Kholinne
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Gillen is really knocking it out of the park with this title, proving with every issue that there is life (and excitement!) in Asgard outside of Fraction’s plodding Mighty Thor monthly. To start with there’s the title of this arc, ‘The Terrorism Myth’, which is thoroughly awesome even though I’ve not figured out how that’s applicable to the content at this stage! Then there’s Gillen’s masterful plotting, complex in scope but always delivered in an understandable fashion with a strong undercurrent of humour. Of course you also have Loki himself, distinctive enough from his previous adult incarnation to be a thoroughly rounded, compelling individual in his own right, someone capable of wrongdoing but mostly with the best intentions on his mind (especially when things work out best for him!). The book’s seen a number of artists come and go (and come back again) but they're generally of a high standard and here Elson’s mixes the intimate and the epic without putting a foot wrong. I’m always banging on about this being one of the very best titles Marvel are currently publishing, and I’m certainly not changing my tune now! 8/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads, Kyle Latino & Jordan Gibson
Image $3.50

Matt C: I really want to get behind this title as Edmondson really impressed me with Who Is Jake Ellis? but at the moment it’s borderline whether I’ll continue with it next month. It has plenty of positives, from the realistic tone and the atmospheric locations to the tight scripts, crisp dialogue and gritty, electric artwork, but there’s one thing that appears to be missing from the plotting in the two issues we’ve had so far. We’ve seen this super-elite black ops team go on dangerous missions, carry them out with relative ease, then return to base. It’s all very well done but there never seems to be any chance of things going pear-shaped; it all goes to plan a little too effortlessly. Maybe Edmondson is just giving us an opportunity to see how this team operate before throwing a spanner in the works, but up to this point there’s never any indication that things will take a turn for the worse. The possibility of witnessing the team out of their depth on a mission is probably enough to get me back for issue #3, but if it’s a case of them going through the motions again I may well have to leave them to it. 7/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artby: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

James R: In a word: cinematic. After five issues, Tomasi and Gleason have done a fantastic job of redefining this book and giving it it's own aesthetic. Once again, I have to tip my hat in the direction of Bat-books editor Mike Marts who has assembled a brilliant cadre of artists to illustrate Gotham - Greg Capulo on Batman, J. H. Williams on Batwoman and Patrick Gleason's terrifically moody work here – and I can't think of another character in comics who is so richly illustrated! The issue itself sees Damian working alongside Morgan Ducard - himself a son of a relentless, perfectionist manhunter in Henri Ducard - whilst Bruce broods (what else?!) over his role as a father as he desperately tries to track Damian down. Tomasi's script is the right blend of dialogue and visual storytelling, thus giving Gleason and Gray plenty of scope to deliver the goods. In a year when a lot of us are giddy at the thought of The Dark Knight Rises in the cinema, it's very cool to be able to read an equally cinematic Bat-book every month. 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Emma Rios & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’ll admit that I turned my nose up a little when I saw that we were getting a Spider-Man/Daredevil crossover in Previews a few months ago as I’ve been enjoying what Slott has been doing with Peter Parker’s life recently and was concerned that this would be an intrusion or distraction to detract from that. I needn’t have worried though as Mark Waid is of course an exceptional writer, delivering great things on the Daredevil title and previously proved himself a Spidey writer of immeasurable talent. Waid takes Peter’s heartbroken state - following his breakup from Carly - and naturally wraps it up in our hero’s need for a rebound meeting with Black Cat. This being Peter Parker means that it’s a terrific example of bumbling and awkward interaction followed by criminal shenanigans, nefarious plots and a quick web-swing to Matt Murdock for some much needed help. I loved the way that Waid brings across the weird situation surrounding the Daredevil identity and spells out just how the populace of New York picture that particular noose hanging over Matt’s head currently. It certainly allows for some amusing acting and misunderstanding between the two crimefighters and exemplifies the friendship that they share. I have to tip my (imaginary) hat to Emma Rios here as she brings possibly career-high art to the table - the initial two page look into Parker’s emotional state is simply brilliant - and surely makes a strong case for her to provide more Spidey/Daredevil art in the near future. 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera & Giulia Grusco
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: You might think this issue features the moment we’ve been waiting for since right back when the series began. Well, you’d be wrong. This issue features several moments we’ve been waiting for since this sublimely bleak series began! The fact that Scalped hits boiling point here caught me off guard, particularly because there’s still a full story arc left before the series wraps up, but also because it all seemed to snowball so quickly, eliciting one gasp after another. The majority of the issue features Dashiell and Shunka beating seven shades of shit out of each other with extraordinary violence, making it clear that at least one of them won’t be making it out alive. It’s very hard to put across the level of sustained (and mostly wordless) brutality we see here in the pages of a comic book but Guera makes this an entirely visceral experience and has you flinching at various panels. Grusco’s palette choice here is perfect, deep reds and blues reinforcing the sense that Aaron means business with what will surely go down as one of the best comics ever published under the Vertigo banner. Incendiary, dangerous and in a class of it’s own, Scalped is a true classic of modern comics literature. 9/10

Writer: Christopher Yost
Art: Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski & Marte Gracia
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’d shrugged this off. I’d said ‘pah!’. There was no way I was going to be shelling out good money for a book about Kaine! Well, I might as well have a flick through when in the shop... oh, I see it really is ‘All of the power, none of the responsibility!’ Of course, yeah, he was a dying man for so long and now he has that impending doom lifted from his shoulders! New powers from his recent Spider Island exploits and the quick swim in the Anti-Venom cure? Yup fair enough... Suffice to say, I parted with my money - finally sacrificed Incredible Hulk in order to do so - and I am very happy with my decision. Yost quickly shows that Kaine is a man haunted by his past, but confused by the near-rebirth that he has experienced which seems to have separated him from his troubled legacy. There’s a rather cool Fugitive feel to the whole thing as Kaine believes he has to run, keep moving, never linger too long, but there’s also a sense that he’s running from his own judgement of what he should use his powers for rather than from the authorities. Ryan Stegman adds his own clinical and accomplished touch to the whole thing and there are some phenomenal panels and pages here - the Humvee destruction is superb! It’s a captivating read from beginning to end and I’ll definitely be picking up #2. 9/10

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