4 Mar 2012

Mini Reviews 04/03/2012

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: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Ten long months have passed and finally I have Orc Stain #7 in my hands. I can understand the delays that can often come with creator-owned projects, but I had initially been concerned that Stokoe’s superb fantasy comic book had been dealt a deathblow and that we wouldn’t be seeing it anymore. Thankfully that is not the case and to make up for the protracted wait this issue is one of the best in the series to date. One Eye has survived his trial within the belly of the Mountain Monster but has succumbed to a severe bloodlust in the process which allows Stokoe to take us through fleeting flashback territory to show us a time long ago when our protagonist worked with those Orcs who now hunt and torment him. From there it’s high-speed action as Bowie and her strange companion Zazu effect a rapid rescue of the monocular Orc before his blinding desire for ‘Poxa-Gronka’ (an Orcish vendetta) gets him killed. There’s some well-timed character development threaded throughout this instalment - particularly when it comes to Zazu - and it helps to melt away the clouds of forgetfulness blown in by the winds of publishing delay. The art is as dazzlingly marvellous as it has ever been and the introduction of a new character towards the end of the book can only indicate that there are more instances of awesome ahead. Superb. 10/10

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

Matt C: The final arc of this exemplary series begins, and once again Aaron takes expectations and flips them on their head. If you thought fireworks were on the agenda following last issue’s riveting conclusion, think again. Without giving too much away, bar the first couple of pages, we’re flung eight months into the future. A lot has changed, but by the same token, a lot hasn’t, and if we didn’t know any better this could easily be viewed as an epilogue to the series as a whole. But we do know better, and even though on the surface some folks have moved on with their lives (not all of them, mind) there’s still a hell of a lot of unfinished business left hanging there. There remains a huge possibility that those aforementioned fireworks will start shooting off but, based on what we’ve seen to get to this point, it’s fair to say Aaron has been anything but predictable. Guera’s artwork is up to its usual high standard, bursting at the seams with violence and emotion, the intricacies in both the figures and the backgrounds enough to completely envelop you in this world. Unless Aaron completely fumbles the ending (highly unlikely) then there’s nothing to prevent this being considered as a searing masterpiece of American comic book literature. 9/10

Writer: Larry Hama
Art: Ron Frenz, Ron Wagner, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema & Rachelle Rosenberg
Image $7.99

Stewart R: The Crimson Guardsmen were one of my favourite things about the early G.I. Joe comics and toylines as the thought of an underground, sleeper force lurking anywhere was a mind-boggling concept for my young 1980s mind. The rather striking cover to this annual had me really excited by the prospect of a big Guardsman story, full of tension and action, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Hama takes an interesting line with a Crimson Guardsman who has become disenfranchised with modern America and left isolated through no contact from Cobra, and this feels like a fresh perspective that counters some of the occasionally garish ‘toyline’ fun that this comic book series can drop into every now and then. Before too long however we end up with the Dreadnoks on the scene and that only really serves to distract from the promising plot and let things descend into the Magical Land of Predictability. Perhaps I’m being a touch harsh, but the problem with the plot is compounded with some rather lacklustre art from the guys on pencils. Far too often characters - more often than not the Joes - end up with weird ‘dead-eye’ stares and things seem a touch rushed throughout. Bit of a shame all around as, while no complete loss, I can’t help but feel that this was an expensive opportunity missed. 5/10

Writers: Mike Carey & Peter Gross
Art: Gary Erskine & Lee Loughridge
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Mike Carey's literary-inspired epic takes another leap back in history for this Point Five issue, as we learn about the youth of Tom Taylor's mysterious father, Wilson Taylor. We discover that Wilson fought in World War One, and while he struggled to stay alive amidst the pointless carnage, he also had a mysterious power tied to the ability to tell stories. As always, Carey's script is intelligent and thoughtful. This month, he uses the story of the Angel of Mons - where soldiers swore they saw angels on the horrific battlefields of the Great War. It works really well, and as always, I'm impressed with the invention of The Unwritten. Back when we first heard Mike Carey outline the series at the Bristol Comics Expo in 2009, he said the potential to tell stories in this universe was almost limitless, so it's great to see that Karen Berger (as editor of the book) has given Carey these additional issues to really let him flesh the world of The Unwritten out. If there's any criticism it's that Erskine and Loughridge's art is a little ‘clean' - anyone that's ever seen pictures from the horrific battlefields of France can testify that mud and filth were as much a part of the landscape as No Man's Land, and I didn't feel the art conveyed that reality strongly enough. However, this was far and away the best comic I read this week, and I'm still fascinated to see where this smart and inventive series goes next. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Batt & Mark Irwin
DC $3.99

Matt C: No two ways about it, Justice League has been a disappointment. What should have been the blockbusting juggernaut of the New 52 has felt utterly slight in comparison to the real winners of the relaunch. Lots of pyrotechnics on display but very little in the way of heart, and that’s surprising as most people assumed with the creative team involved that this would be a slum dunk. Okay, so there are some cool moments in this issue, ones that illicit that tingle down your spine, but that’s all they are: moments. As a whole it doesn’t hang together as something that will cause you to punch the air. The characterization goes from hitting the right notes to skidding straight off the tracks and Darkseid barely registers as anything more than a cosmic brute. I can see what Johns tried to do here but rather than showing off his trademark skill of juggling numerous balls at once, he appears to drop most of them, and Lee blatantly spent less time on each subsequent issue following the excellent visuals of the debut. All in all, nothing especially memorable has appeared in the last six issues and yet I will be back for the next instalment. Why? It’s the Justice League goddammit! I’m not prepared to give up on it just yet! 5/10

James R: Last month, I speculated that Geoff Johns had been replaced by a Life Model Decoy by Marvel to sabotage DC's flagship title. This month shows that it's mission accomplished! Once again, I'm utterly perplexed and bewildered by this title. Johns has clearly written this as a 'blockbuster' comic, but in the same way that a cinematic blockbuster can be all spectacle and no substance, this book lacks coherence. It's a comic that's one big punch-up - and there's nothing inherently wrong with that - but it feels so rushed and random; as far as I can make out, Darkseid gets beaten because Cyborg concentrates really, really hard! Then we're treated to - again - a blockbuster-style coda where the Justice League are rewarded for their heroics. But hang on - at the start of the arc, we see that Batman has (in time-honoured tradition) tried to stay as an urban legend, and he's at war with the GCPD... and now he's at a medal ceremony at the White House?! And suddenly, the book gets a Marvels feel with this all being the work of a journalist writing on the JL! It all feels wildly inconsistent. The only thing that gives me hope is the final few pages featuring the mysterious Pandora and the Phantom Stranger. I'm hoping that now the reintroduction is done, this book can settle down and tell some dynamic stories. At the moment, it’s jaw-dropping for all the wrong reasons. 4/10

Writer: Kurtis Wiebe
Art: Riley Rossmo & Kelly Tindall
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Following the striking first six-issue arc I, along with many readers I’m sure, were hoping that this could potentially turn into another successful ongoing series for Image. Sadly it was not meant to be as #10 marks the end for Morley and the citizens of Green Wake as the critical success was not being matched by the readership numbers. Admittedly I was finding the new arc a slightly tougher read to follow but was plugging away each month and coming away thinking that we were definitely being led towards a big reveal. This finale promises it and then seems to veer away slightly at the last moment so everything can more or less be wrapped up. That may seem like a criticism but when the idea behind this comic has been so intriguing and unpredictable throughout it actually fits quite well. Wiebe still gets to the heart of what the mysterious isle of purgatory is about while leaving an element of the unknown there to pluck at the back of your mind and Rossmo delivers his fine pencil and ink work that has served us so very well for ten chapters. Fair enough I’ve come away feeling that perhaps there was more that we’ve now missed out on that would have made this a great arc, but as far as (possibly) hurried endings go this as good as they get. 7/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso & Patricia Mulvihill
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Halfway through its run and Spaceman starts to show its genealogy. When this book was first promoted, it was sold as 'the team from 100 Bullets does sci-fi' but after reading this issue, I would say '100 Bullets goes future dystopic' would be more accurate. Kidnapping, sex, greed and violence - the themes that made Azzarello and Risso's crime saga so memorable are simply shoved into a future where the seas have risen, but society is still filled with corruption and desperate characters. The thing that's so impressive here is Azzarello's use of language - the slang employed by most of the characters might be off putting to some, but to me it's reminiscent of Anthony Burgess' language in Clockwork Orange. On one hand, I'm a little disappointed that this book hasn't invested more time in some of the SF concepts I thought it would (for example, the development of Orson and his genetically altered brothers) but at the same time it's always a pleasure to see Azzarello and Risso walk down the mean streets of human nature, regardless of whether it's the underbelly of present day America or this gritty future imperfect. 7/10

Matt C: While I can appreciate his talent, Brian Azzarello’s a writer whose work I don’t always get on with. I’ve recently knocked Wonder Woman on the head because although it contained lot of good elements it did quite grab me hard enough to keep going with it. His arcs on Batman and Superman disappointed and I totally missed the boat on 100 Bullets (although I have a feeling I would have enjoyed that and maybe investigate at later date). I few Batman shorts and various other bits and pieces have been on the money though, and at the moment I’m off the opinion that Spaceman is one of his best works yet. The basic plot may feel generic but it’s everything that Azzarello hangs around that plot that makes it unique and special, from the characters to the setting to the dialect (a turn-off for some but entirely successful from my POV). Risso’s vibrant artwork works its usual magic, creating a world that feels like an authentic representation of a not-too-distant future. Another winner from Vertigo then. 8/10

1 comment:

walkeri said...

I just going to write that I don't agree with the two reviews of Justice League issue #6, I found it to be a great read and the back up strip was a fantastic read also and it got me thinking to who the Phantom Stranger may be and I for one don't see this comic as a disappointment so far.