15 Apr 2012

Mini Reviews 15/04/2012

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: Jonathan Ross
Art: Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts
Image $2.99

Matt C: Somebody would have done something similar to this sooner or later but it’s kind of apt that Ross got there first as perhaps in an alternate universe where ‘Sachsgate’ didn’t occur there’s a possibility he may have ended up on one of the types of shows this new miniseries riffs on (a slim possibility, but a possibility all the same). It’s a decent idea anyway, and Ross gets some mileage out of it, although he does go for the obvious targets a bit too often, and the characterization is way too slender at this point. Hitch’s work is far better than it has been recently, but it’s still doesn’t quite match up to that period of brilliance that started with The Authority and ended with The Ultimates. He’s still got that impressive ‘widescreen’ thing going on, but there’s a lack of definition that distracts; for example, if your going to base you Simon Cowell figure on David Tennant, perhaps it’s best to keep that likeness running through all the panels rather than just some? An intriguing debut as opposed to one that blew me away (although the value-for-money page count did) that contained just enough to get me back for issue #2. Just. 6/10

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

Stewart R: While Nobody’s machinations of revenge kicked off this arc, Tomasi has steadily shifted the focus to a keenly sharp study of the father and son dynamic as Bruce and Damian Wayne struggle to understand how to fit into, and fulfil those roles dutifully and responsibly while fighting one of the most dangerous battles of their lives. I have to applaud Tomasi here for bringing such a feeling of familial intimacy to this chapter as Bruce appears to have something of a realisation on how he and his son differ and how they must move forward from this point onwards. Like much of this series to date, there’s a minimal cast involved and that allows for the character work to shine through, both from Tomasi’s script and Gleason, Gray and Co’s lovely art. I’d describe Gleason’s facial illustration as ‘inconsistent in the best possible way’ simply because the level of detail and angles are so varied from page to page and this provides Gray with the opportunity to utilise his fine inking skills to capture those brooding shadows with breathtaking results. As I’ve said before, many out there are lauding Batman and this deserves to receive just as much praise. 9/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Dave Gibbons & Angus McKie
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt C: Matthew Vaughan’s listing in the credits as ‘co-plotter’ makes it a bit too obvious that this is essentially a movie pitch in comic book form. That criticism could be applied to a lot of Millar’s projects, but rarely is it this blatant. The Spy Who Loved Me gag at the beginning is amusing but rather too heavily signposted, and the Brit-centric pop culture references littered throughout jar instead of coming through naturally. Basically, what we’re look at is a tale where a ‘hoodie’ (I’m refraining from using ‘chav’ here… er, oops!) is brought in to work for MI5, and yes, I can see the comedy potential inherent in that idea, but it didn’t really come across in the pages of this issue. The one thing it really has going for it is how Gibbons expertly captures the urban milieu both of the main characters originate from. The illustrations are distinctly, and wonderfully, British. It’s not quite enough though, and the seemingly ridiculous plotline where various sci-fi actors are being kidnapped appears to be designed to allow Millar a chance to take pot-shots at various high profile properties (Look! Prequel-bashing!) while simultaneously showing the reader how ‘with it’ he is. And I’m afraid that’s too much of a turn off for me. 5/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ron Garney & Jason Keith
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Wow, wow, wow! Jonathan Hickman seems to be proving that while he’s known for huge sweeping, science-heavy, convoluted plots and arcs, he’s just at home delivering single issues that look at the ‘heart’ of this family team in such an honest and interesting way. Following the recent climax of his huge ‘Mad Celestials’ story, Hickman takes a look at a loose thread involving Ben Grimm’s serum-induced condition that allows him to become human for one week per year and what far reaching consequences that may have. This is a terrific look into the possible future, free from the usual carnage that has beset the Fantastic Four’s chronological escapades in the past (/present/future snarf snarf!) and far more reflective on how life can be short and precious if looking at the amount of time spent in the presence of friends, family and other individuals when weighed up over an entire lifetime. I love the reminder that despite his huge intellect, Reed often has trouble when it comes to dealing with his emotions and Garney certainly nails it by capturing some truly great panels of futurescapes and heart-warming/wrenching facial expressions that speak a thousand words. 9/10

Matt C: I’d been getting the feeling recently that Hickman was stretching things too thin, putting out two titles when one would suffice. I also thought as the events began to get more cosmic and grandiose that some of the astute characterization was getting lost amongst the melee. But, having been there since the beginning of his run, and seeing what he’s capable of, there was no way I was going to bail out on him now. And so, right on cue, the latest issue of FF turned out to be a winner, to be quickly followed by this issue of Fantastic Four, which is even better. In some ways this self-contained tale reminded me of the classic Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, ‘The Vistor’ (a personal fave!) where Sisko keeps getting shunted forth years into the future to encounter his gradually aging son who then devotes his life to rescuing his father from the temporal anomaly. Okay, it’s not exactly like that, but once you read it (and you should) hopefully you’ll get what I mean. At its heart it’s about the strong, brotherly bond between Reed and Ben and even though a lot of ground is covered through the 20 pages, that bond shines through all the way. Garney is a class act and has no trouble making the emotional core of the story clear amongst the action and sci-fi trappings. Fantastic Four doesn’t always live up to the legend ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!’ but every now and then it does, or at least comes pretty damn close. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Bodenheim & Michael Garland
Image $3.50

Matt C: A bit of a surprise, this. I’m used to Hickman peddling sci-fi tinged tales that hinge on ‘Big Ideas’ since that’s pretty much been his stock in trade since he burst onto the scene, so seeing him do something so grounded in reality (relatively speaking) caught me off guard. And you know what? Stripped of all those outlandish concepts, with the focus placed on his meticulous plotting, the results are pretty terrific. Okay, so at points I might have gotten a little lost, but as we’re dealing with the shady world of espionage I’m going to assume that may be intentional (or maybe *ahem * I’ll read it again!) but overall it sucked me right in. I’ve become a big fan of Bodenheim after Red Mass For Mars and (particularly) Halcyon, and he doesn’t disappoint here, especially as he’s only offered – bar a tightly wound opening sequence – scenes of people talking to each other. The minimalist colour schemes Garland employs work a treat too (although there are instances where a change doesn’t quite hit the right note) and all in all this is a very good start to what looks like another Image title to add to the monthly pile. Damn you, Image, damn you for putting out so many good books! 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I’m not quite sure what has happened here; all of a sudden I’m seriously enjoying this series and it’s taken me by surprise for some reason. I think I was a little jaded by the creeping monotony of the first arc and unprepared for what Johns was building as he’s now placed Sinestro and Hal in the awkward position of having to work together for their own survival and to investigate the strange, dark secrets lurking in the closets of the Guardians of the Universe and the mysterious Indigo Tribe. Both men have certainly been through the wringer of late with various dust-ups between the pair and attacks from other assailants being par for the course, but somehow Mahnke manages to maintain a superb level of threat and brutality in his artwork that genuinely makes you wonder if our heroes (Sinestro vaguely qualifies these days I guess?) are going to come out of this with body and mind intact. The dark, prison setting of the weird Indigo planet is an interesting twist and I’m loving the fact that Johns appears to have possibly sold us a dummy through Blackest Night with his amenable characterisation of Indigo which is now looking to have only been half of the picture. It’s an engrossing read for sure and I’d say that my faith in this book has been restored. 8/10

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

Matt C: Inevitably, there’s no happy ending to Ennis and Burrows’ three-part tale set in the world of the Crossed. Whereas last issue was concerned with how the human mindset would irrevocably alter when confronted with the unthinkable, this issue is more about sheer desperation as the survival instinct kicks in. It’s much more visceral (and there’s plenty of viscera on display courtesy of Burrows!) and intense, and in that respect it’s not as intellectually satisfying an instalment, but taken as a complete story this is easily a worthy companion to the original Crossed series, confirming that whenever Ennis chooses to return to this insane world he’s created, I’ll gladly join him. 8/10

Writer: Chris Yost
Art: Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, Cam Smith & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: A comic book series involving Kaine you say? Set in Houston you say? Want to know what I say? It’s ‘YES!!’ This is working very well indeed as Yost sets up the additional cast and starts to flesh them out a touch while Kaine adjusts to a hero's lifestyle and staying in one place for more than five minutes. This Assassins Guild plot thread looks like it’s going to provide some intriguing twists and turns as this series progresses and it’s certainly thrown up a varied retinue of assailants all out to end Kaine’s life once and for all. Stegman provides sterling work worthy of a Spider title with all of the kinetic appeal that comes with the arachnid-acrobatics and he manages to find that fine line between visceral necessity and fun-for-all action and keep it running true. I’m appreciating Yost’s efforts to develop the expanding cast in line with Kaine’s personal journey and tying things together to make everything resonate as one. We’ll see what the art break for Stegman does to this next issue but the writing’s certainly strong enough to keep me here until his return in any case. 8/10

Writer: Greg Rucka & Mark Waid
Art: Marco Checchetto
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A three-part crossover with this title, Daredevil and Punisher – so that’s two additional books I’ve got to pick up this month then! I actually don’t mind though because a) this storyline is more integral to the book I do pick up (Daredevil) than the other two, b) Daredevil writer Mark Waid is involved all the way through, and c) it actually feels like one of those old-school, contained crossovers rather than one that pulls a bunch of additional titles into its orbit for no valid reason, and I got a nostalgic kick from that. Oh, and d) it’s actually really good. Ostensibly this is all from Spidey’s viewpoint, but it’s really all about the Omegadrive Daredevil has been keeping out of the reach of the megacrime gangs, and leads directly on from the last issue of Daredevil. So more than anything else, from the viewpoint of a Daredevil fan (although I think a Punisher fan may say the same thanks to Rucka’s involvement), this feels like an integral component of the ongoing storyline unfolding in the pages of Daredevil. So, what I’m really saying, is that any fans of Daredevil (and, really, that should include YOU!) need to pick up this issue. I can’t comment on what Avenging Spider-Man is usually like, but this is an absolute blast. 8/10

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

Stewart R: I’ll admit that I wasn’t immediately taken with Saga’s debut, being somewhat unsure of the sci-fi-cum-fantasy vibe that Vaughan, and particularly Staples were going for, but a subsequent re-read and then this 2nd issue has me feeling more positive about what these creators are trying to accomplish. Alana and Marko’s perilous journey is filled with a sense of the dangerous unknown and the banter that bounces between the two lovers because of their nervous situation really helps to hook the reader in and make you root for this young family to make it out the other side - wherever that may be - unscathed. Staples is clearly having fun with the character design and The Stalk is a truly bizarre creature who adds to the general creepy vibe of this story and I’m sure she will play a larger part to come as the chase continues and the stakes get higher. This for me is not quite at the epic heights that others suggest it is presently but saying that I can definitely see the potential. 7/10

Matt C: The sophomore issue isn’t as strong as the debut, but then it’s a rarity to find a new series that makes such an impact out of the gate, so that didn’t really surprise me. What matters is that what Vaughan and Staples are creating is still hugely impressive. Saga has plenty of antecedents (many too obvious to mention) but the confidence in which the writer approaches his narrative and the characters is so high that it feels fresh, inventive and unique even if you get a tinge of familiarity in places. The epic world-building on display coupled with some truly imaginative imagery from Staples, gives the impression that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the ambition behind this project. If you missed the first issue and don’t fancy paying the exuberant prices on eBay, seek out the second printing now – you don’t want to get left behind on this one. 8/10

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

Stewart R: I was very interested to hear this week that this series is in the early stages of development for transition to the small screen after just two issues; I hadn’t necessarily seen anything in those initial chapters to make me think this would stand out amongst other shows on the gogglebox. That said, this third installment adds some extra dimensions, areas of intrigue and character politics that could potentially give this a shot of making the grade as a TV show. Spencer’s dialogue is punchy and I like the unfolding mind games being played between Redmond and Elizabeth Cohen, the agent with only one thing on her mind; making sure the Thief of Thieves ends up behind bars. The usually cliched ‘breaking the rules’ type of law-enforcement doesn’t feel out of place here, especially considering the skillset and reputation of the man she’s after and I enjoyed how Spencer and artist Martinbrough lead us through scenes relatively low on exposition and then drop in a neat summary flashback across two pages that explains much of what you’ve just seen unfold. It’s still not firing on all cylinders quite yet with possibly a little too much time having been spent on the who’s and the history, rather than the big job that Redmond is supposed to be tackling, but it’s entertaining and polished enough to keep me coming back again next month. 7/10

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

Matt C: I’m going to be dropping this series now the first arc is completed, but before anybody jumps to any conclusions let me just say that I do think it’s a fine book, with some excellent writing and illustrations in evidence. My reason for say adieu has nothing to do with quality, it’s all about the amount of unread Conan material I’ve accumulated over recent years – from comics to the original Howard stories - which has grown to a point where it would seem somewhat foolish to add more to the pile. There’s only so much ‘leisure time’ I have at my disposal, and it’s probably a wiser move to work through Howard’s Conan tales first before funnelling more money into adaptations. I do want to make it clear that I’ve been impressed by Wood and Cloonan’s work here, but I do think I need to apply some sanity to my collecting habits every once in a while! 7/10

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