20 May 2012

Mini Reviews 20/05/2012

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.

DANCER #1
Writer: Nathan Edmonson
Art: Nic Klein
Image $3.50

Stewart R:  Why must Image make my life so damn hard with their damn continuing mission to publish new damn comics that are so damn good??  Haha, it’s actually a terrific problem to have and one that is exemplified when comics like Dancer hit the stands.  An espionage-cum-assassin tale, Dancer follows a former military operative who appears to be trying to make a new life for himself in Italy with a talented young ballet dancer yet soon discovers that you can’t leave those troublesome personal histories behind.  This quickly shifts into a chase story with Alan and Quinn literally running for their lives as the sides close in and the sights of the snipers scope seeks them out.  Klein should certainly be applauded for his efforts here which bring a cinematic feel to the page as Alan uses the skills and tricks in his repertoire to get him through the close calls.  He uses a muted colour palette and a heavy inking style to capture a thick, threatening nighttime landscape that really helps to raise the tension as the couple try to flee their mysterious pursuers.  The payoff towards the end is a piece of mind-blowing comic writing from Edmondson that has me locked in to this series until I get, well, a damn answer as to what’s going on!  A solid debut indeed!  8/10

Matt C: I’ve always had a soft spot for assassins (in a fictional setting, obviously!). From a comic book like The Killer to a movie like The American, I love being placed in the figurative company of an individual who earns a living by killing people, seeing what makes them tick and discovering what their lives consist of when they’re not spraying somebody’s brains across a wall. I just find the notion of the contract killer so alien and yet so compelling, and when a story uses one as a central character it presents a real opportunity to dig up some powerful insights into the human condition. So yeah, Dancer would have probably made it’s way onto my list whomever was behind it, but the fact that it’s Edmonson at the helm means there was no question that I’d be picking it up. Who Is Jake Ellis? was brilliant, The Activity is on a roll at the moment (see below) and Dancer looks like it’ll be a creator-owned hat-trick for the writer. There’s plenty that will be familiar to fans of the assassin genre (if there is such a thing) but there’s a twist coming that shows Edmondson isn’t intent on treading across old ground. Klein’s art has a moody, European sensibility about it, which makes it perfect considering the setting. I’m sounding like a broken record here, but yes, here’s another great debut issue from Image for you to consider! 8/10


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #517
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R:  As I tweeted not a couple of hours ago having just finished reading this very issue, Matt Fraction writes Invincible Iron Man in such a way that I’m guaranteed to have a wry smile upon my face at least once an issue.  Fraction manages to imbue Tony Stark with the most baffling of character traits: supreme confidence that he’s doing the right thing in the most unpredictable and desperate of situations.  It’s that ‘seat of your pants’ type of superhero gambling that makes this a pure joy to read.  With no Mandarin in sight this time out, Fraction brings up a decent parallel as both Tony Stark and Ezekiel Stane attempt to rid themselves of almost poisonous foreign tech from their bodies and includes a neat flashback or two to both men’s childhood which hints at why they’ve grown into the brilliant yet temperamental men they are today.  As always, Fraction can deliver a great line in feint and counter-feint and I genuinely had no idea of what Tony has up his sleeve from page to page and whether his actions under the gaze of Babbage and Hammer were a bluff or Tony actually doing the unbelievable.  The best thing of all though?  This story is this damn good before we even get into the proper high-stakes stuff where he’s likely to face the Mandarin and whatever diabolical machinations he has stored in those 10 rings of his!  9/10


JUSTICE LEAGUE #9
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee, Gary Frank, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair & Brad Anderson
DC $3.99


Matt C: Last month's issue had me seriously considering dropping the title; this month's issue sees it getting a reprieve. It's not brilliant by any means, but it's got more than enough going on again to hold my attention. It feels more solid and grounded than before, with various one/two panel interludes giving brief but effective insights into who all the main players are. The new Big Bad show potential, and making Steve Trevor the fulcrum around which the plot circles turns out to be a wise move. Lee's art is nowhere near his usual standard, perhaps due to the monthly schedule, but then, of course, it could be a lot worse. The Shazam! backup is the highlight again, Johns' script and Frank's art meshing perfectly as always. I really hope it leads on to something bigger with these two involved. We'll see. For now I remain onboard. 7/10

James R: Just when I thought I was out... they drag me back in! I thought I was finished with Justice League after the Geoff Johns LMD had delivered a, well, underwhelming first eight issues on this book, but hold the phone! Much to my surprise it seems the real Geoff Johns is back, and hopefully destroyed his android double, as he delivers the best issue of Justice League in years. Johns has teased us with the character of David Graves from the first issue (though he was awkwardly employed in the first arc) and here we begin to see who he really is, and why he is such a huge threat to the Justice League. Johns weaves moments of reflection for the heroes, and some quality action too (I took particular fanboy joy in seeing Superman and Batman laying the smackdown at Arkham.) Jim Lee looks to be back to his best too, and shows why he's remained at the top of the tree for over two decades. It almost seems like an antiquated term now, but this is a 'widescreen' title done right. By the end of the issue, I was desperate to know what Graves has in store for the JL, and that's one of my criteria for judging a book. I'm hoping that after it's stuttering start, Justice League is about to be the premier team book that DC needs. 8/10


THE ACTIVITY #6
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Marc Laming, Mitch Gerads & Joseph Frazzetta
Image $3.50


Matt C: A book that impresses more and more each month. While striving for authenticity means that the stories can sometimes subvert narrative conventions (there's not necessarily any closure to some of these tales) it does lend them real dramatic weight and a level of realism that probably wouldn't exist if Edmondson conformed to more traditional plot structuring. There's also the use of language that makes the scenarios thoroughly believable, and Geradss' art has an impressive, detailed murkiness that matches the black ops missions we witness that exist in those morally grey areas. Laming takes over art chores for this flashback episode, and he does a grand job of conveying the tension of Edmondson's script. This would make a great TV show but then, on the other hand, I don't know if that kind of translation would really do justice to the work of the creators behind The Activity. Let's just say it's a damn fine comic, plain and simple. 8/10


GREEN LANTERN #9
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen and Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99


Stewart R:  While it seems to have divided fans of Green Lantern to a degree, Johns expansion of the coloured Lantern spectrum has for me been one of the true successes of his creative reign.  It’s allowed a great air of mystery to pervade the universe that was once simply ruled by Willpower’s battle to overcome Fear.  In the past few issues, Johns has been taking us into the murky bowels of the Indigo Clan’s homeworld, teasing us with the dark secrets that lie within, and it’s swiftly elevated a title that struggled out of the New 52 gate to a position on the list of must-read comics from the publisher.  Outside of the rather stupid mismatch of cover promise and interior reality - why do DC tend to do this as often as they do? - this is a superb read that reveals the core and rather shocking truth of the Lanterns who control compassion, once again highlighting just how dangerous the Guardians of the Universe are proving themselves to be.  The history lesson between Natromo and Hal is well handled, especially with Johns instilling a tired, near-senile temperament in the aging guardian of the Indigo light.  This comic wouldn’t work as well without the highly-skilled art team at hand to visually craft it each and every month and even the re-swelling inking ranks can do nothing to prevent this from being a treat for the eye.  The special tip of the hat has to go to Alex Sinclair who utilises the purples, blues and greens to a masterful degree here, with each page dripping with sombre mystery.  9/10


HARDCORE #1
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Brian Stelfreeze & Sunny Gho
Top Cow  $2.99


Stewart R:  Top Cow’s Pilot Season - now I remember that!  That was that thing where a publisher threw lots of #1 issues at us to see which ones impressed the reading public enough to have one emerge (or perhaps not!) as a clear bet for an ongoing series.  Of course since then, parent company Image has seemingly undone the need for Pilot Season with its promotion of new creator-owned projects and bombardment of debut issues.  Regardless, some of the Pilot Season had merit and it seems that this Kirkman penned story, dating back some two years when it was first due to hit stands, is worthy of a second chance.  I certainly like the premise of an assassin who is able to take control of a chosen individual in order to carry out a hit in relative safety. Kirkman offers up enough exposition of how this tech works in less than three pages which allows the rest of the issue to be taken up with an enjoyable mission scene utilising Stelfreeze’s talent for capturing action and then Kirkman working his double-cross magic as things take a turn for the worse.  It could be argued that we don’t know enough about the protagonist yet to root for him in overcoming his plight, but I’d take a wild guess and say that that could be addressed should we ever be lucky enough to see an #2 hit the stands.  A promising idea indeed that I’d say warrants further development from Top Cow/Image based on this evidence.  8/10


DAREDEVIL #13
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $2.99


James R: I think that Marvel comics are in an interesting place at the moment. For years I was an X-Men naysayer, finding the mythology too dense to get onboard, but I've been delighted as some of Marvel's best talents have invigorated the mutant books to the point that they seem to be the must-read titles. I've now dropped Captain America, Invincible Iron Man, Avengers, former favourites which have lost their sparkle for me, but Daredevil seemed to be the exception to the rule. Mark Waid restarted the title with breathtaking skill - it was a book that combined the language of comics narrative with an obvious love for both Matt Murdock and the Marvel Universe. He was also supported by some astounding art from Paolo Rivera and then Marcos Martin. The title had been running beautifully, but I felt the Punisher/Spidey arc was a misstep, and now this issue makes me wonder if Daredevil has lost its edge. Daredevil faces a hoard of criminal gangs desperate to finally get their hands on the data drive that's been the narrative core of Waid's run to date. The whole thing felt rushed and incomplete, and for the most part, I have to say this is due to the pencils of Khoi Pham, who doesn't seem suited to an issue like this. He doesn't convey New York well (the city is so intrinsic to Daredevil, it is almost a character in its own right) and the action felt underwhelming to me. The final few pages suggest the next issue could be magnificent though, but if it's not then I may be down to X-Men books only in the 616 Universe.  4/10 

TRIO #1
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne & Ronda Pattison
IDW $3.99

Stewart R:  Rock, Scissors, Paper; a simple premise for a superhero team and in these modern times probably not one that many creators would opt for.  John Byrne though is dab hand at delivering such classic ideas to a comic-reading audience and this debut isn’t a bad start.  He begins with a somewhat clichéd robbery which allows for a demonstration of each member’s powers, but then the situation takes an unexpected twist that I appreciated, allowing for certain character traits to be exposed as well as revealing the odd secret concerning the identities of the Trio.  Sure the emerging threat seems a little hackneyed and as a whole this feels like an ode to the comics of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but there’s a level of charm here that makes it work.  At IDW’s sticky $3.99 price point I may start to wince a touch if things steer too close to cliché over the next two chapters, but for now I’m willing to give Trio that chance.  7/10


SCALPED #58
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera & Giulia Brusco
DC/Vertigo $2.99


Matt C: At the end of the previous story arc it looked like things had reached as far as they were going to get and this final arc was simply going to tie up all the loose ends. I've being wrong-footed by this series on so many occasions I should have learnt by now not to expect Aaron to take the obvious plot directions - heck, he even caught me off guard by flipping the well-worn trope of 'two nemeses joining forces to battle a greater threat' on its head. Along with Guerra's electrifying, incendiary illustrations, this is an absolutely barnstorming read from cover to cover. At this point, with only two issues to go, there's not much I can say about this monumental series that I haven't already. Apologies for any repetition then, but when you find an issue like this pretty much everything else falls into the background. Faultless. 10/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #605.1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Choi & Cris Peter
Marvel $2.99


Tom P: Sometimes a comic takes you by surprise. The Marvel Point One series has been a range of hit and misses with many comic fans pointing out the flaws in these so called 'jumping on points'. However Fantastic Four #605.1 is the best yet, if not one of the best comics I've read this year. Like one of the greatest Elseworlds tales, Superman: Red Son, it takes an origin story and gives it a fascinating twist. In many ways it reminds me of Warren Ellis' Planetary (the best comic series ever written in my humble opinion) which always had one heck of a take on a twisted version of Marvels First Family. It’s well-written, dark and wonderfully illustrated. You could just pick this up and I think you would still be impressed. I want to tell you more about why its so brilliant but I don't want to spoil it. Fantastic Four has had "THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE" written on its cover again since Hickman took over the book and it's been great, but with this issue he really earns it. 10/10


MANHATTAN PROJECTS #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.50


James R: Jonathan Hickman has certainly found his voice in comics. Big ideas, alternate histories, eye-catching design - all these things have now become his hallmarks in titles like S.H.I.E.L.D., Fantastic Four and Secret. This book has all this in spades too, but Hickman also throws in some wild inventiveness. This issue we learn that FDR’s political career may have gone beyond his physical life while discovering just how the Hiroshima bomb came to be dropped. I'm a huge history fan, and I think it's clear Hickman is too (his Pax Romana miniseries remains an all-time favourite of mine) and you can see that he’s having fun twisting the accepted sequence of events into something infused with folklore, rumour and imagination. His wild ideas are brilliantly served by the idiosyncratic and compelling pencils of Nick Pitarra, who seems to have stepped up another level from his already sterling work on Hickman's Red Wing mini. There is one more thing that Hickman is known for amongst the Paradox Group - he sometimes fails to deliver a payoff his wild ideas deserve. Because of that, I'll hold off final judgement on the series until I see where he's taking his alt-science team, but this issue alone is a treat. 8/10


WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #10
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey & Victor Olazaba
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R:  As was shown the other week in Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men, the better side of the AVX event seems to be coming from the ongoing title tie-ins where the regular writers are having to nestle that huge event into their plots while keeping everything that has happened in the recent past in perspective.  Since this title’s inception Aaron has done a superb job of juggling many a plot-and-character ball without any scenes or interactions between cast members seeming to be unnecessary or brisk due to space constraints.  In this issue he manages to address the situation spilling over from AVX with a decent amount of acknowledgement of Schism, giving both Wolverine and Cyclops a chance to say to the other just why their stance over Hope’s fate and the coming Phoenix Force is wrong without the unrestricted punch-up that brought them to this point.  He also manages to give a decent amount of page time to the X-Men’s continuing struggle to deal with the loss of Warren Worthington and the arrival of Angel, while the new addition himself struggles to find his place at the school and match reality with his belief.  While the majority of Aaron’s decision making has been spot on it is a shame that his hand has been forced by the greater needs of Marvel’s tentpole in order to bulk out the mutant lines standing in the way of the Avengers’ mission, but he does enough to make it appear that the impromptu roster changes aren’t likely to be that permanent in the greater scheme of things.  On the art side, it’s a joy to have Bachalo working on his title; he doesn’t put a foot wrong and that sublime cover shows that he can do effective and very simple as well as the marvellous chaos that he’s almost renowned for.  8/10

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