19 Mar 2012

Mini Reviews 18/03/2012

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: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Image $2.99

Matt C: Brian K. Vaughan has been out of the comics scene for a while, diverting his time to his role as a writer/producer on Lost and then (apparently) concentrating on several screenplay projects for Hollywood. During that time his presence was sorely missed as, for several years, he was one of the most intelligent and innovative creators the medium had seen for a while, working magic on various superhero projects and also delivering some acclaimed creator-own projects, Y: The Last Man being arguably the pinnacle of his output so far. His absence was been felt and the announcement of his return with the ongoing series Saga was very welcome indeed. Based on his previous work I was confident this was going to be a good debut issue, but even bearing in mind those incendiary openings for both Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina I wasn’t expecting this! Saga #1 is an exceptional comic, full of extensive imagination, searing emotion and a sense that there’s a narrative vastness that we’ve barely scratched the surface of. The series has been described as Star Wars meets Game Of Thrones and I absolutely concur with that. It takes the exotically cosmic characters and operatic sweep of George Lucas’ beloved saga and marries it with political machinations, adult content and violence featured in George R. R. Martin’s novels. Obviously there’s a heck of a lot more to it than that, but it’s a good starting point to get an idea of what Vaughan is accomplishing. Words alone don’t make a great comic and thankfully Staples delivers a tour de force of immersive, emotional imagery that breathes life into the characters, no matter how bizarre they may appear to be. All in all it’s an astonishingly confident debut, and if Vaughan and Staples have started how they mean to go on, they’re likely to have a monstrous hit on their hands. Oh, and it’s 44 pages for $2.99. Don’t even think about missing this book. 10/10

James R: If ever a comic looked like a win before you've even turned to the first page, Saga is it. Brian K. Vaughn has carved out a deserved reputation as a top comics scribe over the last few years, with Ex Machina and the amazing Y: The Last Man, and both of those titles had stunning first issues. So, straight off the bat, signs are good - it's the return of Vaughn with a whole new universe (or galaxy if you're being picky) to play in, and the art of Fiona Staples is never a bad thing. Then there's the size of the thing. Image comics bring us a whopping 44 pages at $2.99 - and yes, Marvel comics I'm looking right at you here - that's 44 advertisement-free pages too. So, given this epic opening at a bargain price delivered by A-grade creative team, this should be solid gold, right? Well, at this moment in time, I'm not so sure. Vaughn certainly goes all out in this first chapter to introduce us to the war-torn worlds of Cleave and Landfall, via the birth of the story's narrator, Hazel, and her two parents, finding love despite being from opposing sides and species. I loved the scope and ambition here, but I felt that it's not hit the ground running - some sections seemed as if they belonged in an entirely different comic (Special Agent Gale complaining about his apps auto-updating for example) and whereas I appreciate Vaughn's eschewing a first issue full of plot set-up and explication, some elements were over-explained and other things frustratingly ignored. All told, I'm certainly onboard for the immediate future of this title, but it wasn't quite the spectacular I had anticipated. 7/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows & Digikore Studios
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: I’ll say this straight off: I think the original Crossed miniseries worked exceptionally well as a self-contained story and I wish the decision to keep milking the concept hadn’t been made. It was one of Ennis’ strongest works and beneath the often incredibly shocking content was superbly realised meditation on human nature in the face of the unthinkable. I had no interest in what followed (and am glad to hear the consensus is that they’re lesser works) but news that Ennis would return (albeit briefly) to the property was enough to get me to return. On the surface it’s more of the same, but Ennis has a way of producing the requisite scenes of horror and coupling it with an insightful look at what makes people tick. I can’t think of many writers who can achieve this with such apparent ease, but he’s a master at getting his audience to connect with his characters very quickly. Burrows is an integral component in allowing this to happen, the expressiveness he brings out of each panel solidifying that connection. It always surprises me that one of the Big Two hasn’t poached him yet, but I guess he wouldn’t get the opportunity to draw some of the sick shit he does here anywhere else! It’s unlikely to be as powerful as the original series (Ennis and Burrows only have a three-issue arc before another creative team take over) but if you were a fan of that then you’ll probably want to pick this up too. 8/10

James R: Ah, Garth Ennis, you do know how to make me feel unclean! I was a huge fan of the first series of Crossed; I love a good post-apocalyptic tale, and Ennis' first tale of humanity tearing itself apart fused a lot of great elements together - nihilism, black humour, nightmarish ethical decisions - all of which served to ask the reader what humanity truly was (the murder of the children in the cave springs immediately to mind.) I didn't find David Lapham’s Family Values series to be written with the same verve or dynamism that Ellis had brought to the original title, so I dropped that book. However, the Irishman is back with a vengeance with Badlands, which transposes the action from North America to Scotland. Once again, he pulls no punches. Babies thrown from cars? Check. Naked axe-murdering mothers? Check. You get the idea! If there's one criticism, it is that the series seems to be following an identical path to first Crossed, with a group of disparate survivors trying to stay one step ahead of the psychopathic monsters. I have a feeling that Ennis is far too crafty for that though, and so I can say once again that if you like a touch of horror with your comics, Crossed is the title to read... but you may feel like showering afterwards! 7/10

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

Stewart R: The battle that we all knew was coming is finally unleashed as Bruce fights tooth and nail against Morgan Ducard in order to save Damian’s life. This is 20 pages of brutal Batman action as the two highly skilled and disciplined combatants get lost within their own fury brought about by the blinding need for revenge. I love how Tomasi keeps the dialogue to a minimum throughout the issue, adding occasional taunts or mid-fight barrages of threat to good effect and essentially leaving the lion’s share of the storytelling to Gleason, Gray and Kalisz’s visuals. I did note that in odd points Gleason doesn’t quite get the head shape of his characters right - Damian looks far too old in one panel - but that’s the only criticism that I can draw from an artistic performance that captures the visceral nature of the encounter so damn well. I’d even go so far as to use the term ‘breathtaking’. Tomasi has managed to convince me that Bruce’s feelings for Damian could potentially compromise and jeopardise all of the rules that he has laid out for himself in all of his crime-fighting endeavours far more than they have been in the past and it’s that continuing uncertainty - as also witnessed in slightly different fashion with Snyder’s manipulation of Gotham lore in his title - is making the Batman universe truly unmissable presently. 9/10

Writer: Joe Keatinge
Art: Ross Campbell & Ms,Shatia Hamilton
Image $2.99

Matt C: Like the recently relaunched Prophet, I had minimal awareness of Glory and zero interest in picking it up. And, like Prophet, as soon as the positive reviews started popping up I felt I should really check it out. And, yes, like Prophet, it was a very good ‘debut’ indeed. The ‘second’ issue is of similar quality as we discover what happened to the titular character between her disappearance from Earth and reappearance in a bruised and battered state. At her core, Glory is essentially a Wonder Woman analogue (warrior woman from elsewhere comes to deliver justice in the man’s world) but – and I don’t know what aspects Rob Liefeld originally created and what Keatinge has brought to the table – there’s enough to differentiate her and make her a unique, individual creation. Campbell’s robust art and Hamilton’s restrained palette give it a distinctive look and given that no one speaks about the original series with praise (if they speak about it at all!) then it’s probably safe to say this is a masterfully handled and entirely successful reinvention. Another feather in the cap for Image. 8/10

Writers: Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev & Andrew Osborne
Art: Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Rev. Dave Johnson, Peter Nguyen & Kieran
Image $2.99

Stewart R: This title continues to roll on with it’s bat-shit crazy web of gangster shenanigans, double crosses and 101 different misunderstandings and I can’t bring myself to ever miss an issue or remove it from my pull-list. The writing team - the inside cover credits are nearly as confusing these days as the relationships between all of the characters - do a fine job of sustaining the near-unending tension as well as keeping the dark humour bubbling up from all corners. This time around we get a stoned champion racehorse at the centre of things and the mad spiral of events that ensue following its track appearance are highly amusing. Okay, so I’m still having the odd moment where I can’t remember who certain characters are - making things even more difficult on those occasions when characters are actually turning up for the first time - but I’m convinced now that this will be worth the second read through of the entire series to date just to make sure I’m as aware of what is transpiring as I can be. It still won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’m definitely happy to be sticking with this title considering the investment made to date. 8/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Ryan Kelly & Giulia Brusco
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Paul Cornell is somewhat of a curate's egg in the world of comics. On one hand, the man is clearly a talent - he's crafted some fine Doctor Who episodes, and until the final chapter, his Lex Luthor run on Action Comics was a brilliantly inventive tour of the DCU. On the other hand, it's tough to find anyone that really loves his work - both the Knight & Squire miniseries and Stormwatch were greeted with little more than a shrug by the fanboy community. Despite this, I was willing to give Saucer Country a try as a) it's a Vertigo book and b) it’s not about Zombies. On the surface, this reminded me a lot of the aforementioned Brain K. Vaughn's Ex Machina - a tale that combines politics with a supernatural element. We're introduced to New Mexico governor Arcadia Alvarado on the verge of her announcing her intention to run for the White House, while she tries to come to terms with an alien abduction. Cornell certainly gives us plenty to chew on here: the spin doctoring of Chloe Saunders, the weirdness of Alvarado's abduction (or was it?) and the insanity (or is it?) of Joshua Kidd - an academic who believes a little too much that ‘We Are Not Alone!’ It's certainly an intriguing first issue, and reminded me in places of Grant Morrison (who lest we forget believes he actually has spoken to extra dimensional beings!). I wasn't overly impressed with Ryan Kelly's pencils, but this entertained me enough to go back and immediately reread it, and that's always a good sign for me. If this just becomes an invasion tale, it may fall a little flat, but for now, it's a promising start. 8/10

Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Tony Parker & David Curiel
Aspen $3.50

Stewart R: Things get even crazier this time out as Sam Tinker tries to make an uneasy allegiance that could aid his survival in the bowels of Andrew Jackson Maximum Security Federal Corrections Facility a.k.a. The Gateway to Hell and beyond. Pak keeps things moving at an unrelenting pace as Sam, and the readership, learn more about the bizarre prison, its unfortunate/deserving occupants and the eerie jailers who keep the lost souls in order. We get to see the camaraderie developing between Sam and those working close to him yet there’s a palpable feeling of unease that comes with the protagonist offering the smallest amount of trust to those who could turn around and gut him at any moment depending on where they end up next. I’m certainly loving the malleable surroundings that the prisoners find themselves within as it adds an extra level of unpredictability and gives Parker the chance to add curious detail to a landscape equally epic as it is mysterious. Some confusing artwork in the last couple of panels has me scratching my head just a little, but I’m assuming that things will be cleared up come #3 and I’m definitely locked in for that! 8/10

1 comment:

walkeri said...

Well I started reading Saga and only managed to get about half way and gave up,comics like this are just not my cup of tea, I'm not saying it was crap just not the kind of comic that I would end up collecting, so I wouldn't go as far as to say that Mr Vaughan has been missed that much not when there are so many other good writers out there.
I liked the review of Saucer County,so I might give that a look,and I don't know if anyone else picked it up but the last issue of X-23 was fantastic,no dialogue just wonderful Phil Noto art to tell the tale.