2 Apr 2012

Mini Reviews 01/04/2012

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: Dan Abnett
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
DC Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: A few years ago I wouldn't have contemplated picking up a title such as this - zombies and vampires involved in a period, social-commentary, murder mystery - but Vertigo series such as American Vampire, The Unwritten and Sweet Tooth have broadened the scope of my tastes and I'm certainly glad that as a result I've given this miniseries' debut a go as it's a strong start. Abnett sets this plagued British otherworld out well with many of the denizens of this alternate London predominantly belonging either to the affluent 'Young' or the lowly 'Restless'. Chief Inspector George Suttle makes for an interesting protagonist indeed, coming across with that stiff-backed, no-nonsense demeanour that literary heroes of this early 20th century had in spades, but it's not entirely clear whether that's genuinely who he is or more a result of his 'condition'. I like the way that Abnett makes little nods to social class and structure in the main plot while wrapping the whole thing up in a narration where Suttle is questioning what his existence has become. Visually, Culbard's work is spot on the money with a simple line and colour style that really does suit the period incredibly well. Another Vertigo hit in the making? Possibly! 8/10

Writers: Brian Michael Bendis & Jason Aaron
Art: Frank Cho & Jason Keith
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’ve been around long enough to have become a cynical but realistic comics reader; I know that multi-title events are a cash-cow for the Big Two and help keep the market relatively buoyant, even though they generally appeal to the lowest common denominator. But saying that, I still find it hard to resist these things, and this latest event has about the most simplistic high concept you could think of: the Avengers, like, fight the X-Men. Yeah, that’s your lowest common denominator right there. I’ve not really investigated the premise of the series proper, but there’s something inherently appealing to a superhero fan of a series that asks the most basic but potent of questions: who would win a fight between favourite character A and favourite character B? I guess we’ll wait for series to start in earnest for that as this issue #0 acts as a prologue, focusing on the two central characters (Scarlet Witch and Hope) on both sides of the upcoming ruckus. And what a dull and infuriating issue it is! I don’t bang on about it much anymore because I don’t really read his superhero books, but Bendis’ handling of the Avengers still, to put it bluntly, sucks. Must all the characters talk in exactly the same way? That appears to still be the case, which is pretty depressing when you actually look at the amount of time Bendis has spent penning their adventures. He just doesn’t seem to really get to the core of what makes them tick. And the Vision crying? Puh-lease! Aaron’s section of the book is a little better, but not much (a disappointment considering the magic he’s been weaving with X-characters recently). I came away not really caring a jot about what’s going to happen with the Witch and Hope next, which isn’t really a good start (not helped by Cho’s rather flat artwork). I imagine I’ll be back for #1 though, because that’s just the kind of sucker I am! 4/10

Stewart R: I won't rush into a quick decision as far as the series goes, but this prelude or introduction is, for me, worryingly poor. Split into two halves the first, written by Bendis, takes a look at Wanda Maximoff's current situation following her return after The Children's Crusade while the second half from Aaron takes us through Hope's growing desire to escape her Utopian confines and fight the good fight. Both stories follow superheroics in various forms and that's where the first big stumbling block arrives in the form of Bendis' M.O.D.O.K characterisation. The Scarlett Witch needed some problem to prove herself against, but when Bendis throws much of Jeff Parker's strong work character work from Hulk out and replaces it with the generic ranting personality that Marvel ran with for years and years I do pause to ask what the heck they're doing? It's clunky to say the least and not overly helped by Cho's work which isn't to my taste. Aaron's side of things is slightly stronger – I always enjoy an appearance by the Serpent Society – but having followed these mutant characters for a good few years now it really does feel like a heavily watered down summary of the current X-Men situation. The whole thing feels like the powers-that-be don't care for the brilliant work done by writers like Fraction and Gillen up to this point and seem more intent on bringing in the 'event' crowd for the briefest of rides before Bendis gets to treat this corner of the universe like another one of his personal comic book playgrounds. Ominous clouds are on the horizon; nothing to do now but wait and see if they blow in to ruin Marvel's big 2012 gambit. 4/10

Writers: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccelatto
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccelatto
DC $2.99

James R: I should almost be copy & pasting my Flash reviews by now: Flash is superhero comics done absolutely right delivered by a creative team at the top of their game. For those of you that have missed my gushing praise of this title thus far, all I can add this month is a) there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be reading Flash if you've got anything more than a passing interest in the character as Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelatto are carving out a classic run on this book, and b) while J.H. Williams isn't illustrating Batwoman this is the most beautiful comic on the stands. You could take any page from this issue and hang it on your walls, but since its relaunch, the double page openings to the issues have been sublime. This month sees the Flash venturing into the speed force where we see that the boundaries of time and space are being stretched, but there is also a surprise waiting for our Scarlet Speedster within. It's smart, it looks amazing, and it's an involving read from first page to last. I'm sure I'll be saying it again next month, but the message is the same: Read Flash! 9/10

FF #16
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta, Steve Epting, Chris Sotomayor & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Oh ho-ho-HO! Mr Hickman you clever man you! This issue acts as a succinct ending to the events that we witnessed within the pages of Fantastic Four #604 and for once, actually addresses the issue of clean-up when a wave of destruction has swept past and over the city of New York, not to mention the Negative Zone. For generally being known as a 'big ideas' guy, Hickman delivers some really enjoyable character work on a much more intimate level as young Valeria has to deal with the repercussions of her scheming and manipulations as well as having to face the person who she may potentially become. She's a superb character and I've been enjoying those moments where Hickman puts her front and centre recently. Dragotta has helped to capture her feelings and moods as a supergenius child, too mature and growing too quickly in a world that's all at once too simple and boring, yet strange and unfair. The range of disapproving and sulky faces that this artist brings to the table is astounding and I can't wait to see what he provides in future issues. I could mention the rather awesome end piece that really sets up something mouthwatering for the future, but you know what, I think I'll leave that as a tease that might just get you to have a nose inside a copy of FF when you're next in your local comic book shop; I don't think you'll be disappointed! 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: 25 issues in, and Scott Snyder's vampire epic shows no signs of slowing down. This month sees the culmination of Travis Kidd's death race with Skinner Sweet. We finally find out where Travis came from, and why he's so keen on hunting down the bloodsuckers. The thing that brings me back to this comic time and again is that Snyder is moving the narrative on at an electric pace, and finding an interesting prism to look at vampires from each time. Every choice he makes working brilliantly - the old west, Vegas in the '30s, World War 2, and now the '50s - being more than just a history lesson, the temporal backdrop keeps American Vampire fresh, and Rafael Albuquerque continues to be up to the task of capturing the mood of an era. Snyder's ongoing plot concerning Skinner Sweet and the Vassals adds an extra twist of intrigue to the plot and I cannot wait to see this title incorporate the Hollywood Blacklist and 'Red' scare into its pages in the coming months. I said it last week about Batman, and it is true here too - Scott Snyder can do no wrong; long may his run continue! 9/10

Stewart R: For a comic series so entrenched on my pull-list I'm always taken a little by pleasant surprise when a copy of American Vampire turns up in my weekly pile for some reason. This latest arc has been a wild, wild ride and a 'Death Race' it certainly has been with Travis and Skinner attacking each other as if it would be their very last fight upon this Earth. Snyder has passed the upper hand back and forth between each character as this clash has progressed and that's managed to really flesh out Travis' back story and show just how tenacious and wily a foe he could be. Then, just when we figure that things have reached a crescendo, Snyder yanks hard on the plot steering wheel and takes us off to a destination we weren't necessarily sure we would see in the trip itinerary. It works very well indeed and ensures that this definitely comes across as a continuation of the series rather than a somewhat isolated chapter. Everyone's piling the praise heavily on to Batman's side of the scales these days, but we shouldn't forget where this writer started out with his DC/Vertigo career as it still remains just as strong a display! 9/10

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

Matt C: Perhaps I was too hasty when I suggested that Garth Ennis had said all he needed to say in the original series of Crossed then, because this issue is something pretty special. Ennis is dealing with the same kind of ideas that he played with the first time around, but his take on it is so strong, with some tangible observations on the human condition, that it still feels fresh and relevant. Basically this is Ennis presenting a potentially realistic look at how humanity would cope and adapt to a world where zombie-like monsters were on the rampage. When death becomes a constant and very real possibility, certain aspects of an individual’s morality and compassion get pushed aside to make way for the cold, hard logistics of staying alive. Not so much in this issue, but in general, there’s a lot of shocking imagery in Ennis’ Crossed books (courtesy of the supremely talented Burrows) but far more shocking is the chillingly realistic portrayal of men (and woman) pushed to extremes following the collapse of society and a vastly increased mortality rate. Powerful stuff and an example of horror comics at their best. 9/10

James R: Last time out, I wrote that my instinct was that Garth Ennis had something up his sleeve for this title - and this week he demonstrates that he's still got a swathe of brilliant ideas when it comes to the Crossed. What's exceptional about this issue is that the Crossed are conspicuous by their absence. There's no nefarious unspeakable acts in this issue beyond what people will do to each other in order to survive. The disparate band of survivors roaming the Highlands are faced with a horrific dilemma which could have escaped from the pages of an Ethics textbook. I won't spoil it here, as I think any comics fan with half a brain should seek this issue out, but suffice to say Ennis turns in a masterclass of comics writing. His script is tight, yet allowing room for character development, and always leaving the reader with the creeping fear that disaster and pain are right around the next corner, or just over the next page. Jacen Burrows' art is great here too; his rendering of a downed jumbo jet in the middle of the Scottish Highlands is excellent, and he shows the same skill in portraying the human emotion that forms the crux of this issue. A fine read from first page to last, and a comic that I've thought about for four days straight - once again, Ennis sets the bar for horror comics to a stratospheric level. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Initially, this Otherworld arc was something of an anomaly, a 'blip' in Remender's run on Uncanny X-Force, not terrible by any stretch, but something a bit jarring after the consistent brilliance that had come before and that disturbance had been made all the more noticeable due to Greg Tocchini's liquid stylings. Now, at the very end of this particular chapter in X-Force's story, I can understand and enjoy what this pair of creators have been giving us these past few months; it's been a glimpse into Psylocke's incredibly complicated past and has also been a spotlight on who she has become now. Either I've grown accustomed to Tocchini's style here or he's focussed his vision as we've gone along; this finale certainly reads far better visually than #20 did and he's done a fine job of capturing the plight of the Braddock family as they've tried to maintain the safety of millions of realities. And now on to Phil Noto's turn with the pencils we move... 8/10

Writer: Ben McCool
Art: Ben Templesmith
Image $3.99

Matt C: Seems the last issue of this series came out in January 2011, so you’ll forgive me if I can barely remember what the hell is going on in this series. I guess I could have re-read the preceding five issues in an attempt to get my money’s worth out of the finale, but to be honest the memory I’ve held onto about Choker was that I was losing interest in it, rapidly. The first couple of issues had been impressive, but I seem to recall the momentum being lost following that. So yeah, a bunch of stuff happens to a bunch of characters I barely remember anything about, and while I usually rate Templesmith very highly, some of the murkiness in his art here just confuses matters further (get back to doing Fell, I say!). There’s some good old-fashioned nastiness on display here, but it wasn’t enough to reel me back in. The ending suggests a sequel’s on the cards, but I’m pretty confident I won’t be back for that. 5/10

Writers: Tanya Landsherger, Paul Gardner & P. Tuinman
Art: Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, Joffrey Suarez, Bryan Johnston & Paul Gardner
Image $3.99

Stewart R: Wow, what a chunk of reading this proved to be and it definitely makes me hungry for the series to return later this summer. Broken into three separate tales we get a look at a tragic story of young girl's curse, continue the chest-pounding adventure's of the larger-than-life Gottfaust and then delve into a rather mysterious and thought-provoking activities of two continuity detectives. All three chapters offer something new to the world of Carbon Grey containing these troubled these lands of the Czars, and I'm really impressed with the efforts that the entire creative team have been putting into expanding the breadth of this unique universe. I assume that Raisa's desperate journey as a hounded survivor of a disturbing witch-hunt may have the larger influence on what we see in the series proper, but the look at continuity 'errors' or paradoxes really has me intrigued as I can't tell whether it has far reaching consequences for what's to come, or whether it's just a method of cleverly acknowledging small mistakes made by the creative team through the production of Carbon Grey over the past year. There are certainly no mistakes made in the visual department on this title and all involved can be very proud of what they've accomplished here. Strong stuff and a worthy complement to the main title. 8/10

Writer: Roger Langridge
Art: Roger Langride & Lisa Moore
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I really hope Snarked is doing well enough saleswise to allow Langridge to get this series where he needs it to be, be that a succession of humorous ongoing adventures or definable conclusion, because I love it too much to see it reach an abrupt halt! The wit and invention Langridge brings to this surreal and irreverent tale featuring his take on characters originally conceived by Lewis Carroll is a constant joy to behold, thanks to the brilliant wordplay and the vivacious illustrations the writer/artist provides. A $3.99 price tag might seem a tad excessive for a ‘kids’ comic, but it’s positively brimming over with value for money in a way some titles with a far higher profile aren’t (basically, this’ll take you more than five minutes to read!). Sheer unadulterated fun in comic book form. 8/10

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