29 Jan 2012

Mini Reviews 29/01/2012

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.


JUSTICE LEAGUE #5
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee & Various
DC $3.99

James R: I'm starting to believe that Geoff Johns may have been replaced by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoy, in an egregious plot by Marvel to sabotage DC! I can almost see it now, Marvel's 'Architects' huddled in a dimly lit and smoky conference room, when one of them clicks his fingers and declares "Got it! We replace Johns with a LMD, and get the Decoy to write DC's flagship book as if he has no idea how these characters speak or act! Mwa-haaaa-haaaa!" I always remember Grant Morrison arguing that characters like Batman were 'real', as they exists in the reader's heads and vitally, we know when 'they're not written right.' That is one of the two problems with this book - for some reason, Geoff Johns seems to be ignoring how these characters are written in their own books! Behold! Batman unmasking for the flimsiest of reasons in front of someone he's known for five minutes, and then doing something so daft and risky a teenager wouldn't try it, let alone one of the finest tactical minds in the world! See! Wonder Woman running around like Thor when she's written in entirely different (and better) way by Brian Azzarello. And - Gasp! At a plot that’s haphazardly thrown together. I know it's a different beast, but compare this to Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force - that's how you write a team book! If it wasn't for Jim Lee's brilliant pencils, I'd think about dropping this. As it is, I hope the LMD Johns gets replaced by the original soon so we get the JLA we were anticipating. I can appreciate that for new readers this might be a blockbuster introduction to the DCU, but for me it's an awkward read. 5/10

Matt C: I don’t think anyone was expecting character-based drama from this rebooted series when it first appeared – it’s DC’s big gun and it was designed for large scale superheroic action – but Johns has always been good at effective character moments on the fly, so it’s disappointing to see this becoming more like a two-dimensional high-octane spectacle. Considering we’re looking at this as a coming-together-as-a-team arc, there seems to be too much assumption on Johns’ part that we have extensive knowledge of all these players. Obviously we do, but it feels like its trying too hard to please existing fans and ignoring the needs of any newbies who might have jumped onboard. After introducing us to the ‘new’ Darkseid last time, here he comes across as more of an intergalactic thug rather than the devious, obsessional being we’re used to seeing. Then there’s Jim Lee’s art – from the crisp, electric illustrations of the first issue, his work here looks decidedly rushed in comparison, perhaps a concession to getting this book out on time (or near enough on time). Saying all that, there are still a lot of exciting moments and I do enjoying having a Justice League book on my pull-list, but I think it needs to start delivering closer to my expectations if I’m going to shell out for it month after month. 6/10

Stewart R: There’s something going wrong here and I’m not referring to the troubles that DC have had in trying to keep their so called ‘flagship’ title on time - which they of course failed to do! No, I’m referring to the fact that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are not demonstrating their respective comic-creating skills at anywhere near top quality. Lee’s art is steadily worsening as this arc progresses and as I look around the other DC 52 I’m thinking that there are a dozen or so people who this could have been handed to in order to get far better results. There’s a hurried feel to everything and so many of the panels are underwhelming - the panel with Flash, Darkseid and the fallen heroes on the second page is simply teeth-grindingly pants - and that’s compared just to those odd panels which really do come alive and show what Lee can do. Then there’s the writing. I’m starting to realise that Johns is one of those writers who excels when dealing with small casts of characters over a drawn out period and doesn’t do so well when having to bring a feeling of the ‘event’ to a comic book. There’s too much going on that’s getting overlooked - Cyborg, Wonder Woman and Aquaman may as well not have been included in these initial issues and to be honest the same could be said for Darkseid! The interaction between Hal and Bruce in this issue and what then transpires really winds me up purely for the fact that it just seems to be written in to punctuate how the DC Universe is ‘different’ following Flashpoint. Fair enough, but then why are those characters seemingly no different in their own books now after the reboot? Sure, okay, we’re looking at events that happened several years ago, but to be honest I can no longer be buggered to read this particular comic in the hope of finding out how these characters change and develop into those we’re reading about elsewhere! 3/10


FLASH #5
Writers: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
DC $2.99

James R: Now the New 52 is well under way, I feel very confident in saying that, for me, Flash is on a par with Batman as DC's best classic superhero book. Over the last few months I've been effusive in my praise for this book, and this month it's got even better. With superhero titles, there is usually an air of predictability as to how an arc will conclude, with the inevitable triumph of the protagonist and the re-establishment of the status quo. That's all fine, but I'm always impressed when a creative team manages to subvert this, or better still - catch me entirely unawares. In this issue of Flash, Barry desperately tries to save his friend Manuel Lago as his genetic doubles Mob Rule seek to prolong their lives. Without spoiling the issue for you (and I can't recommend you pick this up enough if you've not done so already!) Barry manages to save his friend... but not before creating a new addition to his rogues gallery and setting up a terrific plot for a future arc of the title - 'We've got to destroy the speed force!' Once again the book looks beautiful - Buccellato's colours give Manapul's pencils a unique tone, and for me it's up there with J. H. William's work on Batwoman. In every way, Flash has emerged as the pacesetter of the DCU. 9/10


BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #5
Writers: Paul Jenkins & David Finch
Art: David Finch, Richard Friend & Jeromy Cox
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I’d considered dropping this title after only two issues, but then things turned around and I actually began to enjoy it. Suffice to say I’m now back to where I started and thinking of saving myself the 3 bucks every month. My big problem with B:TDK is that it doesn’t seem to quite know where it fits; in some ways it’s almost a ‘Best of Batman’ title that dredges up a myriad of over-used villains and Gotham clich├ęs and throws them at the Caped Crusader and then, on the other hand, it’s also one of the New 52. That’s the point where apparently we need to have the relationship between Gothamite and Kryptonian redefined for us and allow David Finch the opportunity to use a double page splash - from the limited twenty page count - to depict a punch that doesn’t quite work. The crucial factor for me now is that I’m closing the cover after reading of this title and thinking to myself that I haven’t really just experienced anything particularly new, innovative or interesting. For those looking for a purely action oriented Batman comic I dare say this is the place to look at the moment but when I’m measuring it up to its peers it’s falling short each and every time and I think it’s probably time for the two of us to part ways. 4/10


FF #14
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Juan Bobillo, Marcelo Sosa & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: IF you haven’t read both this and Fantastic Four #602 this week it would be my recommendation that you read FF #14 and then its sister title afterwards. But then it might work just as well the other way round... Okay, the important thing is that you read BOTH titles this week! Here we get to see the children of the Foundation fighting against the odds to prevent the Mad Celestials from making progress through The Bridge, gaining help from one of the last survivors of the Council of Reed Richards and of course, Victor Von Doom. It’s really good to see the past and present come together throughout this issue as we see Doom once again attempting to stare down gods and the plans that Valeria and Nathaniel made in order for that moment to come to fruition. Admittedly this is feeling less Future Foundation and a bit more like ‘The Convoluted Tales of What Valeria Richards Did Next’ with occasional cause for Alex and Franklin to use their powers, but it’s still enjoyable storytelling with a grand sense of scale - helped by Bobillo’s art which I’m warming to - and it adds a great deal to the events unfolding in Hickman’s other book on the same family. 8/10

Matt C: I used to be a staunch supporter of Hickman’s slowburning run on the Fantastic Four but I’m starting to find it harder and harder to stay engaged. I have nothing but admiration for the scope of the ideas he’s brought to the table but now, with his story split of two concurrent titles, everything seems stretched to snapping point, and a sense of cohesion appears to be disappearing from view. It’s a thrill for a longtime Marvel fan like myself to see Galactus, Doctor Doom, the Supreme Intelligence, the Inhumans and Annihilus appear in FF and Fantastic Four at the same time, but it’s looking more and more like Hickman has piled on way too much stuff, and I have the feeling that a streamlined, single title storyline might be more appealing. I’m prepared to see it through as I’ve stuck with it for so long and, to be fair, there’s much to enjoy in both books (in FF, it’s pretty much any scene with Valeria in) but if I’m to go beyond that Hickman will need to reign things in a little to keep hold of my interest. 6/10


AQUAMAN #5
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Eber Ferreira & Rod Reis
DC $2.99

Matt C: After last month’s abrupt conclusion to the opening arc, this issue is far more compelling. In fact, having seen the continuation of certain plot threads, I wonder if perhaps I was a little too harsh on the last instalment? Time will tell, I guess – for now, I’m enjoying how Johns is starting to dig deep into Atlantean mythology, expanding on Aquaman’s heritage and giving the character a lot more weight, a necessity really, considering the company he keeps. The ending isn’t much of a cliffhanger, but with Reis delivering the handsome imagery to back-up what looks like long-haul storytelling from Johns, I hope to be sticking with this title for a while to come. 7/10


ALL-STAR WESTERN #5
Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Moritat, Gabriel Bautista, Phil Winslade & Dominic Regan
DC $3.99

James R: When this title relaunched it was one of the pleasant surprises of DC's New 52; Jonah Hex teaming up with Amadeus Arkham in Victorian Gotham had a nice hard-boiled feel and, thanks to Moritat's art, it looked terrific and suitably grimy too. This second arc is proving to be less of a straight shooter though, with Gray and Palmiotti serving up a tale that's far too formulaic. Hex and Arkham find themselves in the caves beneath Gotham up against the child labour gang, and as the issue unfolds like a video game - survive the rapids, climb the waterfall, fight the Descent-esque subterranean tribe - it all becomes a little too by-the-numbers for me. The back-up tale of the Barbary Ghost also fails to engage me, and so for $3.99, I feel this book is too expensive for a very standard tale. If the next story arc gets back to the tone of the first issues, I'll take a look again, but for now, I have to bid this book adios. 4/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #602
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Barry Kitson & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: No writer working for Marvel currently seems to have that ability to switch between focus point for whole issues in the way that Jonathan Hickman does. Last time out we were dealing with Johnny being back and having the Annihilation Wave at his disposal, the Avengers trying to save Earth - well New York actually (surprise, surprise!) - from destruction by flaming wreckage and the reincarnated Supreme Intelligence getting all a little bit genocidal about the Inhumans. Suffice to say much of that goes out of the window or is brushed to one side here as Reed and Sue realise that unless urgent, extreme action is taken then all could be lost. This leaping about from plot point to plot point can tend to get frustrating but sometimes Hickman lands on his feet from a breathtaking storyline backflip complete with triple pike twist, hook or cliffhanger and you all of a sudden get that pause as your brain checks the details itself and proceeds to tell you that yes, this really is happening. I’m certainly glad that in the absence of Steve Epting, Barry Kitson was on hand to get all of this onto the page as he really does deliver some grandiose illustrations that capture those ‘big players’ perfectly. 8/10


STUFF OF LEGEND VOLUME III: A JESTER’S TALE #4
Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III, Jon Conkling & Michael DeVito
Th3rd World Studios $3.99

Matt C: The third volume of this magnificent opus reaches its conclusion in startling fashion, once again confirming the series as one of the most unique, enchanting reads currently hitting the stands. The stakes seem to be continuously raised with things becoming increasingly complicated and less clear cut as our now disbanded group of heroes spend more time getting involved in the various happenings that occur in the Dark. The cover gives away the main thrust of the issue, as Jester confronts his bitter, corrupted brother, but it doesn’t quite prepare you for the episode of tragic heroism that we witness nor the shocking reveal that adds another level of danger to the proceedings. The writers incorporate many recognizable fairytale tropes but they twist them into new shapes so there’s a freshness as well as a familiarity present. Wilson’s dynamic, emotive artwork continues to bring a surprising level of realism to what is essentially a tale of toys adventuring and fighting. I still think too many people are overlooking The Stuff Of Legend, assuming it’s more of a book aimed at kids, but they couldn’t be more wrong: there’s real magic in the pages of this comic and any fan of the medium would be wise to experience it for themselves. 9/10


AMERICAN VAMPIRE #23
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: This comic never, ever seems to dip in terms of quality... ever! Seriously! I’ll admit that I sniffed a touch when I heard that things were going to be jumping to the era of rock’n’roll and dragsters following the very strong and dramatic storytelling surrounding World War II, but this ‘Death Race' arc is proving yet again that Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque are masters of their craft. The opening single panel from Albuquerque in this issue is a perfect start for what’s to come as Travis continues the dangerous, high-speed chase of his quarry. Between moments of breathtaking action we get brief glimpses of the sad and troubled past that led him to this vampire-hunting juncture and I love the way that Snyder intermingles the dialogue and narration from present to flashback and back again effortlessly. Importantly, the protagonist here is no clear hero and that just exemplifies the delicious wealth of intriguing grey that you’re guaranteed to get when you take a bite into American Vampire. 9/10


JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #5
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Mikel Janin & Ulises Arreola
DC $2.99

Matt C: This is one New 52 title that I was impressed by to begin with but it’s been steadily loosening its hold on me as it’s progressed. To be honest, the magic corner of the DC Universe has never really appealed to me but the possibility of an interesting dynamic being set up between these characters looked like it might be a refreshing change to the norm, one worth investigating further. For me at least, that dynamic hasn’t been too riveting; in fact, by the end of this issue there’s still not much in the way of a team in place and my eagerness to see what occurs next has pretty much dissipated, especially after such a vague finale to this opening arc. There’s been some really strong work from Janin in this series so far - he’s done a fine job of creating some heavily evocative visuals – but that’s not enough on its own to hold my attention so this is where I bail out. 5/10


SECRET AVENGERS #21.1
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Patrick Zircher & Andy Troy
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I ducked out of Warren Ellis’ run on Secret Avengers after just one issue - I’ve heard nowt but praise about it since - and wasn’t looking to return. That was until I heard that Uncanny X-Force scribe, Rick Remender would be taking up the reins from #22. While I’ll always gush about Remender’s work on UXF I was less impressed with Venom so I’ll reserve full judgement on his handling of the Secret Avengers until a couple of issues in, but this is at least promising. Marvel are unfortunately having to bow to those higher marketing forces by redefining Hawkeye so that he’s recognisable for those cinema patrons likely to catch Avengers this Summer, but it’s no game breaker. Remender does a good enough job of showing what Clint Barton has been about for decades now and highlights just how different an operator he is to the clean-cut, straight-edged Steve Rogers. Okay, this demonstration of ‘extremes’ kinda flies in the face of a lot of the blurring and interesting character development that both characters have been through in recent years - Rogers creating and heading the Secret Avengers in the first instance shows he’s not that squeaky clean! - but Remender delivers some crisp dialogue and Zircher does a fine job on the visual side of things. We’ll see how things pan out with the series proper but it should at least be worth checking out. 7/10

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