11 Mar 2012

Mini Reviews 11/03/2012

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: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra & Cris Peters
Image $3.50

Stewart R: I’d been fairly excited for Hickman and Pitarra’s last Image-published project, Red Wing, but very quickly that excitement dwindled into sheer ambivalence as the miniseries went on. Not wanting to judge a creative partnership on the basis of one piece of work I’ve now picked up Manhattan Projects to see what they can do. I certainly like the idea of two diametrically opposed Oppenheimer brothers and both writer and Pitarra do a decent job of showing their upbringing from the two very differing perspectives. The bigger problem for me is the surrounding military science fiction story which shows Hickman once again working in ‘big ideas/little substance’ mode. The bizarre attack on Base Zero lacks a feeling of real gravity or danger and I tend to think that it’s down to the writer looking at things from too high a level. Pitarra’s artwork is also a touch inconsistent with some very strange panels and views thrown in. I stuck with Red Wing through all four issues, I don’t think I’ll be giving Manhattan Projects the same grace. 4/10

Matt C: Jonathan Hickman is a brilliant ideas man (anyone who can come up with tagline ‘Infinite Oppenheimers’ has to be doing something right!) but as was recently evidenced with Red Wing, sometimes those ideas slip through his fingers rather quickly, and he can’t quite fit them into a satisfying storyline. Which is basically my way of saying that while I was impressed by this introductory issue with it’s central premise that the US government was funding much more far out projects than just atomic bomb research in the early ‘40s, I’m going to be guarded in my enthusiasm until I see how this series begins to play out. Pitarra’s art is generally good, not as strong as it was on Red Wing though, with some panels look decidedly off, and the bendy figurework a little distracting on occasion. I’ll certainly continue with this series for the time being, as it’s a great concept loaded with potential, but I’m going to hold off on recommending it in case it loses its spark along the way. 7/10

James R: Longtime readers of this blog will know the drill by now: Jonathan Hickman, creator-owned project. First issue? Brilliant! I love Jonathan Hickman's wild ideas, and here he's taking the alternate history concept that he's using to great effect on S.H.I.E.L.D. as we learn that the Manhattan Project - America's WW2 endeavour to build the Atomic Bomb - was just the tip of a huge secret iceberg, involving science that would make Reed Richards go even more bendy than usual! At the heart of this is Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the nuclear research team re-imagined here as... well, that would be ruining a great surprise! The book tears along, and is framed by Hickman's distinctive design. My one reservation is that Hickman does not always pay off his brilliant ideas - Red Wing and Red Mass For Mars being case in point - but on the strength of this book, it's a fine start, and the world of comics is all the richer for his innovative concepts. 8/10

Writer: Grace Randolph
Art: Russell Dauterman & Gabriel Cassata
BOOM! Studios $3.99

James R: A couple months ago I flagged this up as one of my Ten Forward choices - I thought that the story superheroes’ other halves had a lot of potential and I'm delighted to say that this first issue confirms my hunch! It's easy to characterise this book as 'superhero Desperate Housewives' or riffing on the strengths of The Incredibles, but it's way more than that. On one hand, Randolph does a terrific job introducing us to the whole cast and their issues while at the same time setting up a corking narrative. She also sets up a lot of potentially great takes on the classic superhero archetypes. In the same way that Marc Guggenheim did a great 'Alternative JLA' with Halcyon last year, Supurbia takes Superman, Batman, Green Lantern et al and views them through a fresh prism. I'm also enjoying the fact that the protagonist isn't someone superpowered, but the newly married Eve White, who has the greatest of all ‘super’ powers - a keen and inquiring mind! The book has a fresh and distinctive look delivered with aplomb by Russell Dauterman and Gabriel Cassata, and it all adds up to a winning read. One of the best things about writing for this blog is when we can flag up new books that are worth of your attention, and Supurbia is the perfect example of this - get on board! 9/10

Matt C: I don’t think the marketing of Supurbia as ‘Desperate Housewives meets superheroes’ did it many favours, as it certainly wasn’t a concept that really appealed to me, and if it wasn’t for the buzz that suddenly erupted before its debut I could have easily let it go by unnoticed. If I hear good things about an issue #1 I’m generally willing to give them a try though, and this is absolutely a case of the end product far exceeding any expectations I may have had. I can see where the Desperate Housewives tag came from – it’s superheroes and their families in a suburban community – but I don’t think that comes anywhere near to doing it justice. The series it brings to mind for me is Jay Faerber’s superb superhero soap, Noble Causes – obviously Supurbia is it’s own thing, but it feels like it has a similar wit and sensibility, and Randolph looks like she knows how to draw plenty of mileage from the what-superheroes-get-up-to-when-they’re-not-punching-supervillains concept. Dauterman’s art combined with Cassata’s colours gives the whole thing a bright, shiny sheen, which nicely juxtaposes with the idea that things aren’t so rosy behind close doors. A hugely promising opener. 8/10

Writer: Joe Keatinge
Art: Andre Szymanowicz & Jason Lewis
Image $2.99

Matt C: I’m not much of a fan of teen-books (I mean books featuring teens rather books purely aimed at them) and while the odd exception will completely click – something like Joe Casey’s The Intimates, or New Mutants in its heyday – generally I don’t relate to them as well as I may have done when I was far younger man (and, yes, if that makes me sound like a grumpy old bastard, so be it!). Hell Yeah made it on the list purely on the strength of writer Joe Keatinge’s debut issue of Glory a couple of weeks back as I’d previously seen the blurb in Previews a couple of months ago and decided it wasn’t for me. Having now read Hell Yeah, I know I my initial reaction was right, but I will say it was a fairly engaging read even if I’m not inclined to go beyond this issue. The idea of a world swamped with superheroes isn’t new, but Keatinge adds a few interesting twists, and the teen perspective keeps it feeling fresh, while Szymanowicz’s art impresses with its clear exuberance. In all honesty, I could potentially pursue this series if my pull list wasn’t so overstocked at the moment, but I also get the feeling I’d probably knock it on the head sooner rather than later. 6/10

Writer: Ann Nocenti
Art: Harvey Tolibao, Richard Horie & Tanya Horie
DC $2.99

Matt C: I had no interest in this book when the New 52 was launched but with a new creative team taking over, all it took was one name to get me to pick it up: Ann Nocenti. She’s not been involved in comics much over the past couple of decades, but readers of a certain age will remember her phenomenal run on Daredevil back in the ‘80s. I certainly remember it and that memory was enough to make me want to see what she could do with the Emerald Archer. Sadly, within a couple of pages, I knew this wasn’t for me. I guess seeing GA monologuing out loud to himself made me realise that Nocenti was still writing like it was the ‘80s, in an overly verbose fashion that didn’t let the art do the talking (although I wasn’t taken with Tolibao’s fussy art either), and it became rather grating quite quickly. Which could also be said for Green Arrow himself. This brash, cocky version of Oliver Queen isn’t really the version I want to see – I much prefer that dash of the debonair to offset the cocky streak. It’s nice to see Nocenti back writing a regular comic book but either her style is past its sell-by date or the character isn’t the right fit for her. Whatever the answer is, I’m out. 4/10

X-MEN #26
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Jorge Molina, Cam Smith & GURU eFX
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Only a two-week wait between issues and to be honest that was too long! Having a huge cast of characters pairing off and squaring up against each other generally tends to be done incredibly well or mind-punchingly poorly in my comic reading experience. Gischler and Molina prove that they’re squarely in the camp that can do this incredibly well! The creators elect to give up just one single page for the majority of the clashes between the mutant/vampire alliance and the selection of bounty hunters who have turned up on the isolated China Sea island looking to claim their prize. The variety of the combat, combined with Gischler’s skill with mid-fight banter and Molina’s ability to deliver some superb kinetic action really brings it all together in fistfight harmony! Even while all of the violence is ensuing we still get some opportunities to explore Storm’s stubborn stance when it comes to the X-Men’s mission and I enjoyed seeing her painful history with vampires clash headlong with the ideology of isolation that being a mutant brings to the table. It’s all set up for a humdinger of a finale next issue and I might just have to have a quick look now to see how long I have to wait! 9/10

Writer: Judd Winick
Art: Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs & Brian Reber
DC $2.99

Stewart R: And just like that, the brilliant Ben Oliver’s run on Batwing was over and my ponderings on why I’d been drawn to this title for those first six issues began to surface. As it turns out with #7 I’m pretty certain that Judd Winick’s punchy scripting and intriguing story was a big fat piece of the puzzle as I enjoyed this instalment just as much as I did the preceding chapters. The continuing look into disbanded (and now mostly murdered) African super-team, The Kingdom, really captures my attention every time and even here, when Winick has elected to shift things to Gotham (or DC had him do it in time for the upcoming fight against the Court of Owls), it still works well. Bringing in the ensemble Bat-cast helps to increase the tension as they try to track down the missing Kingdom members and come up against a foe far more ruthless than they’re used to confronting. Dustin Nguyen isn’t my first choice for art duties but he puts in an applaudable effort here, especially when it comes to the flashback scenes in Africa. Those ponderings of mine have certainly disappeared for now! 7/10

Writer: Allan Heinberg
Art: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I loved the first series of Young Avengers. It was heartfelt, exciting and one of those teen-orientated books I actually really connected with (see my Hell Yeah review above for further info!). We waited around for a long time for Heinberg and Cheung to reunite and bring us a second series, and this mini – Young Avengers II in all but name – was what finally arrived. Admittedly it started off strongly, with a solid and prudent plot thrust along with a core cast of characters that bounced off together well. New characters began being added as the series progressed and the scope widened, but once both the Avengers and the X-Men appeared on the scene it became decidedly overcrowded. By the end there was a lot of emoting going on (too much), some less-than-scintillating fisticuffs and a heck of a lot bystanding. And by bystanding I mean those scenes where you have a handful of characters interacting but a whole lot more simply standing around and doing nothing. It might have worked if it felt like we were seeing something new, but too often (Doom with ultimate power!) we were being handed stuff we’d seen numerous times before. Cheung’s art made the whole thing look quite beautiful but by the end I was bored, and maybe the bi-monthly schedule factored into that, but I’m pretty confident when I say this hasn’t been a patch on the first series. 4/10

Stewart R: Eighteen-or-so months worth of reasonably epic comic storytelling across nine issues comes to its conclusion and it’s all so very understated and processional. The initial pages dealing with the death of a character are tinged with a suitable amount of tragedy - Cheung being a dab hand at capturing grief in the faces of all involved - but then, all of a sudden, it seems as if Heinberg has an instant necessity to draw a plot point that he started several years ago out of the fire and complete that damn circle. It doesn’t stop there however and it feels as if the Scarlet Witch is then in some sort of bizarre press day where everyone gets five minutes of her time before they go on their way. It was stated way back in the day that this would lead us to the upcoming Avengers Vs X-Men event but the knowing dialogue nods are a touch forced and hard to swallow. By the time things start to get to the soap opera that is expected and often enjoyed when it comes to the Young Avengers and their team friendship I had really started to stop caring enough. This has still been an enjoyable story on the whole, but at times it has come across that perhaps Heinberg was torn between an intimate look at a son’s journey to find his mother and that Marvel Event Bandwagon hurtling down the hill towards summer oblivion. 6/10

Writer: Larry Hama
Art: S L Gallant, Gary Erskine & Andrew Crossley
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Okay, so last week’s G.I. JOE:ARAH annual didn’t manage to set the world alight but at least the main title is still pounding along nicely without a sign that the pace or tension is going to let up! I’d been a bit ‘sniffy’ when Hama first decided to bring in the Blue Ninja cyborgs, but by having both the Joes and Cobra have their own reasons for trying to stop their activities it’s really added an extra level of dark excitement as we can see the potential car-crash of conflict looming in the distance. I really do enjoy the fact that Hama gives an equal amount of page-time to both sides’ actions and Cobra Commander’s usual cheesy bravado has been swept aside, thankfully to be replaced with a frenzied, near passionate, thirst for revenge. S L Gallant plays a big part in giving this story a more grounded feel with some rather creepy panels depicting the cyborgs’ moves to capture Cobra uniforms from sleeper-agents’ houses. All in all this is a great example of why this series was brought back out of retirement in the first place. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $2.99

James R: Payoff! After teasing us for seven issues, Swamp Thing properly returns in this issue, and as we've come to expect from the comics genius that is Scott Snyder, it's a tour de force. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for an 'accept your destiny/regain your powers' story at the best of times, but this is a particularly great one with Alec Hammond crucially deciding this time to become Swamp Thing once more. I particularly loved the parts where, while arguing with the Parliament of Trees, he observes that the Green is not a place of "Beauty and balance and wonder... It's a force of nature, volatile and wild and conscienceless." I loudly and proudly declared that Snyder was a worthy heir to Alan Moore's classic run on this title back at the start of the New 52, and with this issue he really shows this to be true. Yanick Paquette's art also goes up to another level, his psychedelic panel layouts and images of horror juxtapose brilliantly. After seven issues, I get the feeling that this book is about to get even better - I have no idea how, but I can't wait for this creative team to keep delivering the goods. 9/10

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

Stewart R: This miniseries had been riding high predominantly on the cushion of comedy that Si Spurrier had inflated under it with Dr Nemesis’s strange psychic predicament and Madison Jeffries’ self-denial and then soul searching over his strongest emotional attachment. While the comedy takes something of a breather this issue - don’t worry, it’s still there - this turns into a more fraught affair as all of X-Club find themselves in the toughest of situations. Dr Rao’s self-doubt and battle against the seemingly inevitable demise of her patient is gripping and Jeffries supposedly lethal plummet towards the Earth atmosphere adds a keen emotional touch to proceedings. Nemesis meanwhile still gets to fling insults and highbrow curses despite the horrendous torture he is put through by an unveiled foe of tremendous power. It’s riveting stuff and when wrapped up in the quirky and tasty stylings of art combo Davidson and Rosenberg I believe it to be one of the best minis available on the shelves. Get it and love it! 8/10


Living Tribunal said...

Gentlemen, where is the next "Project" that was promised months ago?

Matt Clark said...

It's being worked on. I want to get enough in the bag before publishing. I blame my youngest son and his haphazard sleeping habits for keeping me wiped out for the past year and a half and not in the mood to take on any additional writing activities!

Normal service will be resumed soon, I hope!