5 Feb 2012

Mini Reviews 05/02/2012

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: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: This is the exact cloak and dagger, espionage vibe I’d been missing in the regular Captain America of late, the kind of storytelling that kickstarted Brubaker’s run with the character in such memorable style. Obviously, considering the characters involved (Black Widow seems just as much the star of the show as Bucky himself) the writer gets to take them into a lot darker, morally greyer places than he could with the star-spangled Sentinel of Liberty (although, let’s not forget, he took Steve Rogers to some pretty dark places!). The writing’s solid and hugely promising, but what makes this book such a winner in my eyes is Guice’s art. His work with these characters has impressed before, but he takes it to the next level here with what is possibly the finest work I’ve seen from him to date. The balletic fight scenes are invigorating but it’s his expressive, intoxicating take on the characters (the Widow in particular) that really made an impression. If Brubaker and Guice can keep this synergy going then Winter Soldier may just turn out to be exactly the book we’ve always wanted it to be. 8/10

Stewart R: I’ve just this minute done a big, fat double-take when I checked the price of Winter Soldier #1 for purposes of this review, as I hadn’t realised that it is a $2.99 book! A quick page count reveals that this is indeed a 20 page comic and I’ve come away feeling like I’ve read far more than that; a sure sign that good things are a-happening! I am super happy that the plot threads that Brubaker was sewing back in the 'Gulag' arc of Captain America are going to be dealt with throughout the early months of this series and my joy is boosted by Guice’s and Breitweiser’s involvement. From the intimate moments between Bucky and Natasha - reminding us that their partnership extends far beyond merely ‘getting the job done’ - to the action set pieces that ooze black operative and espionage goodness, this is a damn fine looking piece of comic art. I loved what Guice was doing previously but he seems to have darkened the inks and increased the amount of shadow to bring a masterfully brooding atmosphere to every page which is then enhanced in turn by Mrs Breitweiser’s oh-so-subtle yet oh-so-effective palettes. Add in a terrific ‘what the fuck?’ moment that comes out of the blue but then doesn’t feel out of place in hindsight and you have yourself and damn fine debut issue. Top, top stuff. 9/10

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Chris Weston & Chris Chuckry
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The wise thing to do is reread the preceding eight instalments before cracking open this long-awaited new issue, and if I hadn’t done that myself I wouldn’t have much of a clue what was going on. It has been over three years after all! Skirting around the reasons behind the delay (let’s not get into that right now!) I’m very pleased to say that not only does it flow nicely from what happened previously, with no noticeable effects from the hiatus, but the compulsive quality of the series remains undiminished. Essentially a superhero mystery at its core, The Twelve has succeeded because of the extremely strong character work that not only highlights the ways the world has changed - often for the worse - since the 1940s, but also shows that those supposedly innocent times were populated with individuals as equally messed up as their contemporary counterparts. As well as Straczynski’s scripting (potentially his strongest for the House of Ideas) the other key ingredient to this series’ success is Weston’s detailed, illustrations that have a tinge of the contemporary to them but more than anything brilliantly evoke comic art from an earlier time (albeit far more meticulously rendered). For a while there it was looking like we’d never get a conclusion to this series so I’m entirely stoked to see it back and firmly believe it’ll the finale will have been worth the wait. 8/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Guru eFX
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Since we’ve managed to put that initial Mr Sinister arc behind us, this is now coming across as the flagship X-title it was always meant to be. Gillen has taken the ideas explored briefly by Rick Remender in Uncanny X-Force and expanded upon them with a great deal of flair. I love the idea of an isolated pocket of evolution that has been affected by time dilation and distortion and this is the type of story that Gillen seems to thrive on. I like how he has split the team up in order to tackle the situation and the pairings of the Extinction Team members allows for some excellent banter as the likes of Namor and Hope, and Psylocke and Magneto learn a little more about each other in a lethal environment. The story of the Apex civilisation is not particularly new in terms of a people faced with their own extinction but it fits well here and I like the way that we’re introduced to one character over the course of the issue. I used to joke a little about Greg Land’s artwork but my stars and garters, the guy has elevated his work to a whole new level and is proving himself worthy of pencilling the premier X-title. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: This month Sweet Tooth marks it's thirtieth issue demonstrating all the strengths that have made it the best ongoing series in comics. With each arc, Lemire has paced the story perfectly so that it builds up almost unbearable level tension, and this is augmented by Lemire's characters, which are so well realised that, for me, they feel real. Here, Jeppard (becoming more an unstoppable force of nature with each issue) desperately races back to the Dam after Haggarty's true identity is revealed. Meanwhile, Dr. Singh tries to turn Gus against Jeppard, and it seems there's more danger hiding in the wilderness. I find myself so immersed in the post-apocalyptic world that Lemire has created I become anxious to turn the pages at places, but every time I finish an issue, I'm compelled to go back and read it all over again. The other thing that I'm in awe of here is the regularity with which Lemire produces this book - there has yet to be a late issue of this book, and the standard is never less than superb. When you consider Lemire's commitments with DC's New 52 (which will now include Justice League Dark - huzzah!) and the fact that he has a new OGN in the form of The Underwater Welder due this year, I'm starting to believe that he doesn't need sleep or food! Lemire has started 2012 the way he was for all of 2011 - on fire, and long may this magnificent comic continue. 9/10

Matt C: Thirty issues in and Sweet Tooth still has the ability to both shock you into a standstill and pluck firmly on the heartstrings, sometimes at the same time. It’s obvious that Gus and Jeppard are never going to have a trouble-free time on their journey but that knowledge doesn’t always prepare you for what Lemire does to his characters. Further, the quality of the writing and the potency of the art mean that you desperately care about these characters and when something bad happens, you really feel it. That’s not an easy thing to achieve in comics, that level of emotional attachment, especially not on such a consistent basis, but Lemire seems to make the connection between his audience and his characters with apparent ease, and it’s a truly impressive skill (something he’s also displaying on Animal Man). It’s never too late to catch up with this powerful, post apocalyptic series. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Roenning & Jean-Paul Bonjour
Art: Robert Love, Dana Shukartsi & Diego Simone
Image $2.99

Stewart R: And so Image’s slew of new titles begins again in earnest! Alpha Girl #1 introduces us to the heroine of the piece, her problematic history and the crazy events that have led to the zombie apocalypse nightmare that she now finds herself trying to survive through. It clips along nicely, dropping the odd comedy moment here and there amongst the rather sad exploration of Judith and her brother’s upbringing. The artwork from Love and Co. has that black comedy, cartoon feel to it and helps to enhance the mirthful leaning that I believe this title is going to take over the course. My only problem with Alpha Girl really, is that it feels far too similar in tone and execution to its predecessor and stablemate Chew. In fact I’d say that with just the odd plot tweak here and there this could have been sitting in spin-off territory - don’t worry, it’s not - as it really does seem to come from the same pot of crazy. That’s unfortunate because even at this early stage I don’t think that it’ll be able to measure up to John Layman and Rob Guillory’s standard-setter and I’m not sure how long my interest will hold with it. 7/10

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

James R: Sometimes the problem with setting the bar so high is that it's difficult to always make a spectacular leap. Brubaker and Phillips have redefined the noir comic in recent years, and their work on Criminal and Incognito remains some of the best comics you can read. As a result, I think I now expect everything from them to be stellar - I felt a bit disappointed at the end of the last arc on Criminal after it started so strongly, and two issues in here, I get the same feeling of ambivalence - please don't get me wrong, it's a fine-looking book (with the usual classy work from Phillips and Stewart) and Ed Brubaker is clearly having fun throwing the horror elements into his hard-boiled world, but it's missing a certain something. I've mulled it over and reread it, but I can't quite put my finger on it. My best theory is that this is the issue where the plot elements are put into place: Hank Raine's affair with the mysterious Josephine, Walt Booker's fight with the dark forces of the book, and the police corruption plot, and it's a lot to jam. Consequently, it doesn't quite feel like it's more than the sum of it's parts - but that doesn't mean I'm dropping the book, rather I'm hoping that the next few issues see Brubaker delivering some trademark narrative knockout blows. 7/10

Stewart R: This is instantly recognisable as a Brubaker/Phillips noir tale but something is just not quite clicking in the same way that it has done on their previous projects. Part of the reason perhaps is that there is no clear protagonist to the piece; we follow several characters as they go about their respective underhand or secretive missions and they in turn are coated with a thin film of the supernatural. The dialogue still remains sharp and cutting as we’ve come to expect from Brubaker, but for me it runs alongside several plot elements that cry out that our favourite noir comics writer might be on autopilot. It’s almost as if he’s wanted to write a fantasy tale for quite some time but felt the best route to get decent exposure was to wrap it in what he’s best known for and that’s robbing us of what could have been an interesting horror story. Phillips’ line and ink work comes together well with Dave Stewart’s colours and the blend of genres does succeed to some degree on the visual side of things, I’m just not convinced that the writing will come together quick enough to maintain my interest. 6/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jean Paul Leon, Travel Foreman, Jeff Huet & Lovern Kindzierski
DC $2.99

James R: Well, this was unexpected; after the relentless horror of the first five issues of Animal Man, we're offered a respite as we get to see Buddy Baker's movie - Tights. Lemire gives the director of the film as 'Ryan Daranovsky' but it's easy to see this as the superhero version of Darren Aranofsky's The Wrestler as it’s tale of a washed-up man and failed father who can't move on from his illustrious past. I would understand if readers hated this issue - it is a sudden side-step from narrative tension that Lemire does so well, but personally, I loved this. It was great to see Jean Paul Leon filling in here (I loved his work on Marvel's Earth X) and the contrast with Travel Foreman's work on the last few pages really convey the sense that we're watching a movie within a comic. This issue demonstrates that the title is ready to do the unexpected and throw curveballs in the same way that Grant Morrison did in this book's first golden era. However, Lemire doesn't go for mimicry, he's doing something new and interesting and that means this book remains a must-read. 8/10

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Paul Davidson & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: When reaching the halfway point of a Marvel miniseries there occasionally comes that moment where you brace yourself for a small lull before things inevitably ramp up and start that sprint to the finish line. Well I haven’t experienced any such recession in intensity with X-Club this week. If anything, I dare say that Spurrier takes things to a whole new level with some interesting reveals about the strange forces affecting the various members of this team of brainboxes and some highly entertaining action. Dr Nemesis’ continued struggles against mutated beasts, both passive and aggressive are true comedy gold and this then continues on as he makes startling discoveries about those parties influencing things behind the scenes. The craziness is balanced carefully with some deft character work involving the still troubled Madison Jeffries and the perturbed Dr Rao. At the end of the day, any comic that has the balls to have a main character screaming "I’ll put my science in you" at a wave of cloned foes deserves to be read by as many people as possible in this reviewers opinion! A huge contender for miniseries of the year already, despite only being halfway through the run and we’re only one month through 2012! 9/10

No comments: