22 Apr 2012

Mini Reviews 22/04/2012

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: Jason Aaron
Art: John Romita Jr, Scott Hanna & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

att C: I stood alone amongst my fellow reviewers a couple of weeks ago when I enthusiastically praised the first issue of this series, my only niggle being that I’ve seen many other Marvel events fall flat on their face with surprising speed. Well, guess what – I enjoyed the hell out of this issue too, and I’m even more optimistic about the prospects of the series as a whole. Yes, the characterization is mostly just skin deep and continuity with the current Marvel Universe doesn’t appear to be the main priority, but it’s worth remembering that something like this is designed to exist on its own two feet without reliance on the knowledge of every detail of what’s going on in the both teams respective corners of said Universe. Which suits me fine because I only have a vague idea about what these characters have been up to recently! I’m happy to take this at face value, and enjoy the slam-bang spectacle as things kick up a notch. It’s big, yes, and while you may not think it’s particularly clever there’s a certain poetry to the captions littered throughout the issue that livens things up considerably. If I have a problem here it’s that some of Romita Jr’s panels are uncharacteristically sloppy. For the most part he turns in some great work, but just look at the panel where the Avengers are about to storm the beach for an example on when his skills seem to desert him. That aside, I’m, having a blast with Avengers Vs. X-Men at the moment. 8/10

James R
: Or, 'The Ruddy Big Punch Up', as Round 2 of Marvel's big event is just that - one massive fight sequence! As a spectacle, Jason Aaron and John Romita Jr. deliver the goods, but for me this was a 'fast food' comic - it looks tasty, but it's a far from satisfying meal. Writing about comics like this is always difficult because it's underscored by the craziness of the central concept - it's a story about people with superpowers! - but I couldn't help feeling how forced and unrealistic it is. I can't believe that in the huge pantheon of characters, none of them say “Hey, let's just talk about this for a minute... This could get way out of hand!” a little more forcefully. Storm tries on page one, but is dismissed out of hand! Both Cyclops and Cap seem to have opted for the junior school model of conflict resolution by trading insults and punches. I'm sure Marvel and Axel Alonso would tell me that I need to read the tie-in books to fill in the background and add layers of plot, but in a week where Batman shows us how a 'big event' should be done, this feels lacking. Once again, it looks nice - you wouldn't expect much else from JRJ - and I liked Aaron's poetic commentary on the fisticuffs, but it was a hollow read for me. If you're going to steal, steal from the best; in the words of Shakespeare, this is a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing. 6/10

Stewart R
: The scripting has been passed from Bendis to Aaron this time out, but there’s still the noticeable ‘whiff’ of the former’s touch here with some clunky, self-aware pieces of dialogue that border on fourth-wall breaking winks to the audience which feel out of place for me. I’m also not keen on the formal manner in which some of the combatants address each other, almost as if to suggest that these heroes haven’t spent much time in each other’s presence before, or that there are dozens of underlying grudges bubbling away, yet damn near every reader knows that these characters cross paths ALL the time. I still don’t buy the premise of Hope’s ignorance considering her upbringing as a time-travelling survivalist and her role played previously in locating new mutants around the globe. And then the less said about that stupid panel involving the Scarlet Witch’s dream journal the better...!! I think the biggest problem for me is that there isn’t enough reluctance on show here from all involved; it descends to eager fisticuffs all too readily but much of the danger is removed from a clash like this when you know that the combatants aren’t trying to do each other any permanent damage; they’re just trying to knock each other on the ass. I may get to a proper breakdown on why this is a wildly stupid premise at a later date but for now I’ll just point out the crazily obvious - why wouldn’t these sides come up with the compromise of the X-Men taking Hope to the Phoenix Force if Cyclops plan is to embrace it, thereby saving all of the billions of souls being consumed on its path to Earth? These are heroes after all...no? *Sigh* this remains stinky. 3/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Aaron Campell & Carlos Lopez
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99

Matt C
: After the searing brilliance of his Preacher series I’ve been willing to give just about anything Garth Ennis turns his pen to a look. Sometimes I don’t get on with his stuff at all (I never clicked with The Boys, for example) but other times he pulls something out of the hat like Crossed and you remember that he’s a writer working on a level that few of his contemporaries can match. It’s pretty obvious right from the off that The Shadow is Ennis in work-for-hire mode, and that’s even if you ignore the fact that it’s a character he’s not created. It feels very formulaic, and that’s coming from someone who’s never read a Shadow story in his life. It’s not bad though (it actually feels like the opening of a movie script more than a comic at points), has some decent art and Ennis can’t really help but bring his intelligence to the proceedings, but at the end of the day it’s not something that really stuck in my mind after I put it down, and at $3.99 that makes it one issue only for me. 6/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree
Oni Press $3.99

Stewart R
: In an acknowledged nod to one of the most famous issues of any comic in the past 30-odd years, Bunn and Hurtt go all ‘Silent Issue’ (a la GI Joe: A Real American Hero #21) in this month’s Sixth Gun as the plucky Becky mounts her rescue mission and impregnates the strange mountain fortress in search of Drake. It seems that you can’t go about these dialogue-free efforts these days without careful attention to detail and decent plotting as the critics and readers will hang you out to dry for ‘cutting corners’ and just playing it for novelty’s sake. While the ‘nod’ shows nice awareness it doesn’t alter the fact that this is actually an accomplished piece of comic book craft as the often impressive Brian Hurtt weaves an exciting tale of high-stakes heroics and the creepy, supernatural elements involved. Sequential art is a tricky medium, but Hurtt even manages to capture the six guns’ strange, otherworldly powers succinctly without a word of exposition or explanation at his disposal and it never once feels confused or that he’s added too much to get his point across or left something unsaid. The subtleties in his facial work really come to the fore as Becky’s determination, fear and wonder are captured with keen precision and the look of shock that he manages to place upon the face of the many unprepared henchmen through this chapter, and for that matter the rest of the series, is like no other. A terrific example of why this comic is a ‘must-have’ on my pull-list each and every month. 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, FCD Plascenia, Rafael Albuquerque & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $3.99

James R
: Firstly, my apologies to any longtime readers of the blog who must be thinking, “Jeez, what a surprise – James R's book of the week is Batman! Again!” I know it may make me appear a little myopic, but honestly? This was effortlessly the best thing I read this week, and for my money, if you're going to do a multi-book event, this should be the blueprint. Snyder's Night of the Owls was designed by the writer to be an 'opt in' event - the writers of the other Bat-titles could incorporate the attack from Gotham's mysterious Court of the Owls, or they could carry on regardless. As a result, it's great to pick up an 'event' book that doesn't come with a plethora of miniseries and one-shots. As for the opening chapter, well, it's everything we've come to expect from Snyder, Capullo and Glapion on this title - it's sophisticated, fast, and punctuated with a host of brilliant moments. By point of contrast, when Grant Morrison was writing Batman, he also staged an attack on Wayne Manor with the agents of The Black Glove intent on destroying Batman. That was a fine comic, but this is infinitely superior. In terms of art, Greg Capullo just gets better and better. It's hard to draw a compelling fistfight in comics, but his rendering of the rooftop sequence was a joy to behold. The cherry on the cake here is the bonus story, which establishes the sit-rep on the Bat Family and the plan of the Court. It's beautifully illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, who is great on American Vampire, and his art is perfectly suited to the world of the Dark Knight. Scott Snyder and co. are redefining Batman and it's a joy to behold. 9/10

Writer: Larry Hama
Art: Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema & J. Brown
IDW $3.99

Stewart R
: The sense of escalation has been quite palpable over the course of the past few G.I.Joe:ARAH issues and I have to put that down to a clever plot twist, brought to the table by Hama, that has put our sympathies for a very rare moment onto the Cobra troops and their families. Forever and a day have they simply been used as violent, detestable cannon fodder whose bullet-riddled, samurai sword-infused or fireball consuming demise is usually on hand to give the reader a sense of justice, but here we can feel empathy for the faceless enemy as the hideous situation unfolds and they appear helpless to prevent it from destroying their lives. Outside of this thoughtful thread there’s all the expected G.I.Joe chaos as Snake Eyes and The Baroness continue their uneasy but effective alliance as they attempt to bring the Blue Ninjas’ reign of terror to an end and Cobra Commander struggles to keep the precarious security situation within his ranks under control. Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema return on art duties and the alternation between them and S L Gallant has been working really well to give this title a distinctive and recognisable style. 8/10

Writer: Brandon Graham & Farel Dalrymple
Art: Farel Dalrymple
Image $2.99

Matt C
: Part of me now wants to check out the original Rob Liefeld issues of Prophet from the ‘90s based on the current quality of the book, but from what I hear I’d be supremely disappointed if I did so. I guess that makes what Brandon Graham has achieved by revisiting and revitalising the concept so impressive if it is indeed a world away from its origins, because Prophet is rapidly climbing towards the summit of my monthly must-reads. I don’t delve into the world of straight-up sci-fi too often, but when I do this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for: big, profound ideas set against a backdrop of a dystopic future centring on an enigmatic, otherworldly protagonist. With out revealing too much, this isn’t the John Prophet we met in the first arc, but he’s just as compelling a character as the other variation. Farel Dalrymple comes aboard this short arc to lend his illustrative skills to the proceedings, and just as he doesn’t stray too far away from the look Simon Roy fashioned previously, he also manages to bring the same kind of intense level of imagination to every panel. Smart, seductive sci-fi of the highest order. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Funnily enough I’ve watched both of the Iron Man movies over the past couple of days in preparation of this week’s Avengers Assemble viewing and it got me to thinking back to when this title emerged four years ago following the initial cinematic exploits of Tony Stark and tried to loosely capture some of the feeling of the live action take. This particular issue resonated that camaraderie that exists between Tony and Rhodey and that was nodded at in Iron Man 2 - despite their different views and jobs, they remain loyal friends united in trust and the bond that wearing the armor can bring. Fraction utilises the emotional tug from this bond to really hit the reader between the eyes as the Mandarin’s most ruthless plan unfurls and starts to raise the casualty count. Once again there’s a superb feeling of a race against time as we can see all of the elements come crashing together and it’s almost enough to make you search for that mental nudge to remind you that you haven’t taken a breath in a good few seconds. Having had those occasional glimpses of the mangled Mandarin future in the Stark Disassembled arc and the #500 spectacular also help raise the excitement levels when Fraction brings elements of those visions into play in the current timeline. The 'superlative well' has certainly run dry when it comes to Larroca’s artistic skill and consistency on a title that is quintessentially his own and I’m just thankful that we have him turning in work like this month after month, year after year and the same goes for Fraction too. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Carlos D’Anda, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Gabe Eltaeb & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

Matt C
: Well, that didn’t last long. After last issue’s marked improvement over the first arc, this month’s instalment see things go off the rails in a muddled and irritating fashion. Green Arrow does his very best to nab a place on the team, but the League are having none of it. If GA didn’t come across as such a dick to begin with, you’d almost feel sorry for him, but he looks like he’d slot right in as the majority of the League (Batman maybe excepted) come across as dicks too! I’m not entirely sure what Johns is up to at the moment; I would have thought he’d mapped out some sort of plan for this title but so far it’s looking like a very loose plan, one that is steadfastly failing to cement the JL’s status as the premier superteam in the New 52. I was feeling optimistic following the last issue, but only the appearance of a certain Martian has prevented that optimism from disappearing completely. That and the Shazam! backup which I’m actually really enjoying, but I could probably hold out for the collected version of that if the main feature continues to move forward in such an erratic manner. 5/10
Writers: JT Krul, Adam Beechen, Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen
Art: Howard Porter, John Livesay, Randy Mayor, Norm Breyfogle, Andrew Elder, Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs
DC $3.99

Stewart R
: While this equates to a collection of material originally published through digital means it certainly forms a decent printed read and is making me feel like I’m getting quality and quantity for my dollars. I like the addition of the Superman Beyond story here with JT Krul doing a fine job of showing the Last Son of Krypton living a solitary existence with his family and friends having aged quicker and passed on. It’s interesting to watch him harden and feel isolated as mankind begins to bridge the gap between him and them with technology yet still show just why there is a need for the Man of Steel no matter the date. The Batman Beyond story from Beechen remains entertaining with Mad Stan still on his canine-related rampage and the ongoing soap opera involving Dana’s brother should provide material for many issues to come. The Justice League section is a little pedestrian this time out if I’m honest as a very different Amanda Waller to the one I’m used to seeing, explains just what underhanded plotting Kobra has been working on. I’m guessing that things’ll go batcave-crazy in the next issue though and Fridolfs and Nguyen have done enough to ensure we know just how grave the situation is for the League. All in all this is proving to be a worthwhile endeavour and it works as a vision of the DC Universe’s latter 21st Century future. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jamie Mendoza & Al Vey
Marvel $3.99

Matt C
: And so Wolverine And The X-Men gets sucked into the vortex of Avengers Vs. X-Men as the event consumes any related title in its path, but rather than being a frustrating detour away from what was making this book great, it slots nicely into the ongoing plotlines without the feeling that its been forced. It helps that Aaron’s heavily involved in AVX but I imagine it also helps that I’m enjoying the event so much at the moment. This basically expands on a couple of panels in AVX #1 as Cap lays out the situation to Logan, but it’s populated with enough peripheral characterization that it’s nowhere near being a pointless tie-in. It works as an issue in an ongoing series as well as an issue that fleshes out some events occurring in a major AVX, Bachalo’s art injects the right amount of energy and Aaron’s script is really sharp and often very funny. You’ll probably get more out of it if you’re following AVX but even if you’re avoiding it, this issue is a more than worthy addition to one of the best ongoing titles Marvel is currently producing. 8/10

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross, Rufus Dayglo & Chris Chuckery
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R
: Comics companies love to declare 'A perfect jumping on point!' in Previews in the hope of nabbing new readers on a title. Now if ever there was a comic which was the antithesis of a perfect jumping on point, it's this issue of The Unwritten. However, if you have been following the tale of Tom Taylor, this issue is a treat as Mike Carey unites two of the strongest supporting characters - Golden Age superhero the Tinker and cursed (and cursing!) rabbit Pauly Bruckner. The joy here is seeing Mike Carey start to pull the threads of his epic together. In many ways, it's like decompressed TV; the reward in sticking with a show often comes in the resolution of a long-running storyline, and of course with comics, it's a payoff after years of reading! Carey also delivers the worlds of fiction rushing past as they flee the destruction of the Wave. Peter Gross and Rufus Dayglow do a nice job, but I felt it didn't quite match the feeling of the sublime that Carey's script suggests. At the recent London Super ComicCon, Carey told our own Matt C that there was a huge twist coming in the book that would turn it on it's head - 36 issues in and it's clear that The Unwritten has got plenty more chapters to come. I'm pleased as it's can be wildly inconsistent, but it's never less than an engaging read. 8/10


Living Tribunal said...

Fraction's dialogue, pacing, and transitions from one scene to another continue to be problems on this series. Aside from that, why does the Melter (assuming it is the same character from the 1960's) look like a teenager. Moreover, Living Laser and Whirlwind look nothing like their past selves - they look generic. In fact Laser looks like an Iron Man knock off. I get it that they have been upgraded with stolen Stark Tech (or whatever), but do they have to look like Iron Man variants. Lastly, this whole arc is a rehash of the 1980's Iron Man Vol. 1 story (circa issues 120 - 130) where Justin Hammer took all of Tony's villains under his wing and upgraded them to cause havoc to Tony and to Stark Industries, while Tony was struggling with alcohol. Where is the originality in that.

Matt Clark said...

I can see where you're coming from but I do still enjoy Invincible Iron Man, even if I don't think it's in quite the exalted position it was a couple of years back. Plus, you have to take your hat off to Fraction and Larroca for one of the longest unbroken runs on a Marvel book in recent memory. Remember when that was commonplace?

Tom P said...

I like A Vs. X too! It's all good.

Stewart R said...

Fair enough there's possibly not a great deal of originiality if this current story shares huge similarities with the one you mention from the 80s LT (I've not had the fortune of reading it yet ), but there's the chance that Fraction is going specifically for that parallel or reflection considering the fact that the offspring and surviving families of Tony's deceased villains - Stane and Hammer - are so heavily involved.

I kinda like the fact that this particular 'bubble' of characters are specific to Stark's legacy over 40-50 years of storytelling, but then I'm fairly new to picking up a continuing series based on the character when looking at the length of time he's been around.

walkeri said...

Kind of agree with Matt's review of Avengers vs X-Men,althou I thought issue one wasn't that great,issue two has for me a kind of 70's feel to it, in such as it's lets kick the crap out of each other then sort it out later.
As for the Shadow I think Garth has a good handle on the Shadow,having only recently tracked down and brought some issues of The Shadow Magazine from the 30's and read them I think Garth is off to a good start.