12 Feb 2012

Mini Reviews 12/02/2012

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: Brian Wood
Art: Becky Cloonan & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: I’ve confessed this before but now’s a good opportunity to reiterate: until Dark Horse released the Busiek/Nord helmed Conan #0 in 2003 I had zero interest in the character. I’d seen the Arnie dud Conan The Destroyer but that was it, and I only really tried that comic on a whim, knowing that Busiek had the ability to work real magic when he stepped outside of superherodom. I was ensnared immediately, to the point where I went on to pick up (and thoroughly enjoyed) a heap of early ‘70s Marvel Conan comics and invested in a hefty tome featuring all of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories (which I’m still working my way through). My interest slipped a bit with the current comic series recently as it seemed I was starting to read the same stories over again in various formats, but with Brian Wood taking the helm I decided the time was ripe to return. Obviously his time on Northlanders, with its sword-wielding warriors, gave him good grounding to make the jump to Howard’s most famous creation, and unsurprisingly he makes a fine job of his debut issue. This is slightly different Conan than I’m familiar with, as he exudes a more boyish, roguish charm than the sterner version other writers have presented, and this aspect of the character is perfectly captured by Cloonan’s art, proving to anyone who doubted her suitability for the title that she’s definitely got what it takes. A slightly confusing final few pages detracted from my enjoyment somewhat, but by that point I was already plenty impressed for me to return for the next instalment. 7/10

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

Stewart R: I’ll quite happily argue that the battle for Damian’s soul in Batman And Robin has been just as entertaining and enthralling as Bruce’s battle for his sanity against the Court of Owls in Scott Snyder’s Batman. If anything, I’d dare to say that the stakes seem a touch higher in Tomasi’s title as the reader is constantly left thinking that the point of no return for at least one character is creeping oh-so close at all times. Tomasi does well to get both Bruce and Morgan’s perspectives across in this issue and does so in slightly different ways; the former’s coming by way of a flashback and the latter’s from his interaction with young Damian. The key success to this instalment is the growing feeling of helplessness that Bruce is experiencing as the search for his son continues and, as it reaches its dramatic conclusion, Gleason delivers two exceptional pages that catapult the emotion off the paper. Added kudos must go to colourist Kalisz who uses a bold, rich colour style to compliment the work of penciller and inker incredibly well indeed. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Gabriel Hardman & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: So let’s get the negative out of the way first, shall we? Buckingham Palace attacked by a monstrous willpowered entity, and the Queen is sat in a chair watching the carnage erupt outside?! Like her security team wouldn’t have her locked down in a bunker at the first sign of trouble? Oh, and new villain Riot refers to Captain Britain as a “bloody prat”?? Just when you think American writers have got a decent grasp of 21st century Britain, along comes something entirely cringeworthy like this! Painful. Thank God the rest of the issue is a whole lot better, with some cracking Hardman art and Remender showing that he may just be bringing that successful team dynamic he employs on Uncanny X-Force across to a new book. He’s not quite mastered it here, but you can tell it’s within his grasp. There’s more than enough going on to bring me back and as an aside to seal the deal, is it just me or is Bettie Brietweiser becoming one of the best damn colourists in the business? 7/10

Stewart R: The changing of the creative guard on Secret Avengers happens once again, but hopefully this is to something a little more permanent. Remender and Hardman oversee the move away from Steve Rogers as leader - which has been coming for a little while - and Hawkeye makes a reasonable choice for the head of a team operating under the radar. I’m not convinced that Captain Britain makes a lot of sense as an addition (and that’s not just because the sequence in London irked me a little!) but Remender seems to have an affinity with the character with his recent appearance in Uncanny X-Force so I’m happy to see where he takes this for now. The plot itself is interesting enough with the introduction of a new group of powered individuals who offer up a decent fight for our familiar, yet surprisingly disorganised Avengers and I’m so, so happy to have Gabriel Hardman back on a Marvel team book! He and Mrs Breitweiser bring their awesome talents to bear on each and every page and I think this is going to be a perfect fit for all involved! This is me, back onboard Secret Avengers! 8/10

James R: Egads, I spoke too soon! A few weeks ago I gave respect to Rick Remender for not writing his British characters as horrible caricatures... and now in his first issue proper of Secret Avengers he opts to have Captain Britain crashing through Buckingham Palace and chatting to the Queen! I think I'd let that go if that was the only fault with the book, but after Warren Ellis' incredible run of one-shots, this issue just felt all over the place. His characterisation of both Hawkeye and Captain Britain is supposed to show them as incisive and blustery respectively, but I just wanted them both to shut up! Amidst the snarky dialogue, we learn that the team are now located in a miniaturised satellite, which would be fine, but it comes hard on the heels of Jeff Lemire using the idea in DC's Frankenstein. The Secret Avengers now seem to be fighting not only the Shadow Council, but a whole other extra-dimensional cabal, which feels like Remender adding an extra threat to read as a new beginning for the book rather than a continuation. To me, there's too much going on, and it's hard to get a feel of what will make this book different or special. All told, the parts don't add up to a satisfying whole like they have been on Remender's Uncanny X-Force - I'll be sticking with that, but this is the point that I step away from Secret Avengers. 5/10

Writers: Robert Kirkman & Nick Spencer
Art: Shawn Martinbrough & Felix Serrano
Image $2.99

James R: As a huge fan of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, I read a recent interview with the series' showrunner, Terrence Winter, where he remarked that he simply wouldn't watch a large proportion of what Hollywood is currently producing - for him, television had become the best medium to tell a complex and mature plot. I agree with him totally, but without straying way off track, I was reminded of that interview as I read Robert Kirkman's impassioned essay at the back of this book. He says: "This book brings to the comics medium the same kind of story you'd get in a movie, novel or TV show, but we're utilizing the strengths of what our medium has to offer in order to tell the story." That's a fine sentiment, and it's one of the reasons why I picked up Thief of Thieves - as much as I loves me some Batman, I love stories that challenge me and stretch what the medium can do. Like Terrence Winter, I want a complex plot I can sink my teeth into. So, does Thief of Thieves achieve its lofty ambitions? Yes and no. It is a slickly written plot which grabs the reader from the outset as we're introduced Redmond, the eponymous hero of the tale, and his apprentice Celia. It also looks classy - I've been a fan of Shawn Martinbrough since his Batman work, and so it's nice to see him in a book that plays to his strengths. But does it 'utilize the strengths' of comics? Sadly not. Like I said, it's a fine plot, but it's one that you've probably seen before on a quality TV show. As a quick comparison, look at Sean Phillips' brilliant use of the Archie house style in the last Criminal arc - that was using the medium of comics in a way that plays to its strengths. I'm fully aware that this is early days for this book, and it may go up a notch as the story builds momentum, but as it is, this is a solid read rather than a boundary-breaking one. 8/10

Stewart R: I found this first chapter of Thief of Thieves to be a touch clunky through the initial pages but it improves as you get into it. The brisk introduction show that the creators are going for a ‘Hollywood Heist’ cinematic feel, with the employment of panel flashbacks and the wry smiles of a plan come to fruition all present. The highlight for me is the chapter detailing ‘How Celia and Redmond Met’ which contains some great dialogue and adds that extra element of character exposition that allows us to wonder what this pair have been through since their initial encounter. There’s certainly a vibe in the ‘present day’ storytelling to suggest that a lot of dirty water has passed under the bridge since those early days. Aside from that though, we’re still left in the dark as to who many of the contributing characters are and can only guess at what the big job that Redmond has been hired to choreograph and carry out might be. I’ll admit it does feel a touch sparse for a debut effort and I’ll be wary of too many clich├ęs turning up as we go, but there is some polish clearly on show and I’m at least left with the suspicion that this could be a grower over time. 7/10

Matt C: Everybody wants a piece of the crime pie these days. It a genre that’s seen a resurgence in the comic book field in recent years, and while there’s no way in hell it’ll ever come close to the dominance of the cape and cowl brigade, it’s in a pretty healthy state. Thief Of Thieves sees both Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer get in on the act (Kirkman the story, Spencer the script) and although that sounds like a promising combo I found this opener to be largely uninspiring. It’s not a shoddy piece of work by any stretch of the imagination but while mildly diverting there’s not a strong enough hook to make me want to see how this all pans out. It’s kind of all set-up, but not quite enough set-up – it needed an additional edge for it to really click with me. Perhaps I’d be more open to allow it some time to make a convincing case if this week’s comic’s bill hadn’t been so damn high, but when that happens I start to look at what can possibly be trimmed, so new titles that don’t wow me straight off the bat are going to be early casualties I’m afraid. 6/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Mike Choi & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

Stewart R: So, yeah, Hal Jordan can just be walking around the Coast City Aeronautical Museum and find an incident unfolding that requires him to knock five shades of brown out of four assailants! Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either, but Johns seems to want us to be constantly reminded that Hal can look after himself and still fight the good fight without wearing a ring and so we get this rather forced situation. As seems to be the case with this title since the relaunch, the strongest moments are when Sinestro is in clear view and I quite enjoyed his adventures on Planet Ogord, tormenting a former foe and hunting down a former ally. It’s certainly at that point that Mike Choi’s work gets somewhere close to an acceptable level for an artist of his talent, as the early pages are a far cry from those glory days of Marvel’s X-Force where he really did shine, and strangely come across as if he’s maybe trying to ape the inking style that Frank Quitely employs. At that magical 6-issue mark I have to say that the only thing keeping this on my pull-list is the strong writing when it comes to Sinestro - if and when that disappears so might this comic book from my sight! 6/10

Writer: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art: Attila Futaki & Greg Guilhaumond
Image $2.99

Matt C: I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre in general, less so in comics, so it takes something special to get me to sit up and take notice. Severed has hit all the right notes for me by not only showing some restraint (making the moments of horror all that more horrific) but also placing an emphasis on character. Really, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who read Snyder’s American Vampire as well as, less obviously, his ‘Black Mirror’ arc in Detective Comics, as there was a noticeable injection of horror tropes plain for all to see alongside the astute scripting there, but – with Tuft’s assistance – Snyder shows he has mastery of this style of writing, delivering unnerving, unpleasant and unsettling ideas into the comic book medium. The overall effect is helped no end by Futaki’s rustic, realistic and – yes! – horrifying imagery, and those of you looking for further evidence of Snyder’s ascendance to the elite cadre of comic book writers would do well to invest in the collected edition of Severed when it arrives. 7/10

Writer: Scott Lobdell & Tom DeFalco
Art: R.B. Silva, Rob Lean, Richard & Tanya Horie
DC $2.99

Stewart R: As with other titles in the DC ranks this now suffers a little at the insistence of the publisher to include important, but somehow non-essential cross-overs. To that end we kick off things here with a jump ahead to the end of Superboy’s conflict with the Teen Titans in New York. Lobdell and DeFlaco actually do too good a job of getting us up to speed within the stroke of a couple of pages and so I see no need to pick up Teen Titans to see what took place. I’m quite happy enough with the analysis and soul searching that Superboy goes through following the brutal beating he has dished out and the first confrontation that he shares with a pensive and guarded Supergirl. I like how cautious these two characters are around each other and the eventual punch-up is handled with kinetic care by Silva whose consistency issue to issue has been terrific. I’m guessing that DeFlaco has stepped in for scripting duties because Lobdell has his hands full coordinating several titles at once, but on the strength of this issue I’d say that I couldn’t notice any discernible difference and things are looking good here. 8/10

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

Matt C: In fanboy speak, my summation of this series is that it’s frickin’ awesome. If I were to let my day job seep into my writing and employ business terminology to describe Journey Into Mystery, I’d say it offers a unique proposition in the market place. Why, you ask? Well, if you’re in the unfortunate position of not having sampled this book already (and sampling will lead to addiction, trust me) then I’ll ask you were else would you find a book where the protagonist is a villainous deity resurrected in the form of a teenage godling, making his own mischievous way through immortal life, trying to escape the shadow of his former self? It’s different, that’s for sure, but it’s not a concept that exactly screams ‘money-spinner’, so kudos to Marvel for keeping it going. This issue sees a journey into Loki’s dreamstate to ascertain (with the help of Daimon Hellstrom) why children across the globe are getting wiped out by extreme night terrors. It’s a neat riff on Sandman folklore (the Hans Christian Anderson version, not the Neil Gaiman one) but what elevates this issue (and the ones before it) is the delicious banter Gillen sticks in his characters’ mouths. It’s perceptive, funny and, when required, poignant, and is generally guaranteed to bring a smile to my face each month. Elson is on hand again to turn in some solid, electrifying visuals, and the pure thrill of reading this delightful series every month is something I genuinely wish more people would experience for themselves. 8/10

Writer: J. H. Williams & W. Haden Blackman
Art: Amy Reeder, Rob Hunter & Richard Friend
DC $2.99

James R: An interesting one for me, this month. Up until now, I've felt slightly underwhelmed by Batwoman - for all the undoubted artistic genius of J. H. Williams III, I didn't feel that the supernatural plot was as strong as when Williams first illustrated Kate Kane in the pages of Detective Comics. This issue is far more like it though - in many ways it's a coda to the first arc, but Williams cleverly layers the plot as a flashback to explain where the Weeping Woman came from as well as Batwoman's new life on the payroll of the D.E.O. It's smart and points towards this book finally finding it's rhythm (especially as J. H. Williams has promised us an espionage-heavy plot for the next arc). The downside to the more focused plot is that Williams isn't on pencils - Amy Reeder does a brilliant job, and in any other book, I'd be saying “Wow, this book looks beautiful!” However, when you're following on from Williams, well, it's a bit like going on after The Beatles. I'm certainly staying with this title, and the bottom line is that I enjoyed reading it, but the alchemy that Rucka and Williams found in Detective Comics hasn't quite been replicated yet. 8/10


Justin Giampaoli said...

Glad I wasn't the only one confused by that sequence in Conan, I went over it and over it and over it and eventually gave up, thinking maybe it was just me!

Joe T said...

For me this week it was Captain America #8, and Secret Avengers #22

Captain America is starting to pick back up again, and Alan Davis put out some fairly nice work this month. It doesn't reach the heights of the previous volume, but now Brubaker's espionage is back in full force with Winter Soldier, I can enjoy this title a bit more. Nothing revolutionary, but good clean fun (with some cringe worth lines like "suck my voltage") thrown in there. Not too keen on the powerless storyline, but it's a good mindless read. 7/10.

Secret Avengers. First time I've picked up an issue since Brubakers run (with the exception of last months point one). The point one issue was pretty crappy, but this was good. Really good. I hated the Buckingham Palace sequence, and I'm not keen on the untold return of Otherworld. I feel as though it just undoes all the fantastic work Paul Cornell did on the criminally underrated Captain Britain & MI13 series a few years back. Outside of this, I think Captain Britain was written pretty well, as was his interactions with the other team mates. In fact, all the characterisations here were spot on, particularly Beast and Hawkeye (who I was worried was going to loose his old attitude along with the old costume to make him more movie-lite. Pleasantly surprised). The art was brilliant with the exception of a few panels, and the storyline was intriguing. Remender is brilliant. 9/10.

Also picked up the Young Avengers v1 & 2 trades. My new favourite series. Anyone that hasn't read it should definitely do so.