17 Jun 2012

Mini Reviews 17/06/012

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: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Amanda Conner & Paul Mounts
DC $3.99

Matt C: Last week I was somewhat impressed by Minutemen #1 but felt like the issue – and possibly the project as a whole – was never going to escape the huge shadow cast by Moore and Gibbons’ seminal Watchmen. This week I find myself starting to reassess my initial opinion, because while Minutemen #1 seemed to be raking over familiar ground (in style, albeit), Silk Spectre #1 is something else entirely. You could almost – almost – read this without any prior knowledge of Watchmen and still get plenty out of it, and where I was starting to get a little dismissive of the whole Before Watchmen concept, now I’m feeling a fair bit more optimistic again. Essentially we’re not seeing anything we haven’t seen a bunch of times before – teen rebellion as two young lovers hit the road to escape overbearing parents – but while it’s nothing new it’s told with such grace, style and naturalism by Cooke, and illustrated with such emotive brilliance by Conner (career best, surely?) that it quickly becomes irresistible. Yes, you’re aware that this is all occurring in the Watchmen universe, but the focus is on what’s happening now to these characters rather than what’s going to come further down the line. I realise some people are going to avoid this on principal alone, but the rest of us now have the opportunity to get involved in a series that promises something very special indeed. Whether or not this bodes well for the other books is something that’ll become clear over the coming weeks, but for now I’m confident in saying Silk Spectre #1 is a comic I’m completely happy to throw my support behind, regardless of its connection to one of the most (rightly) acclaimed classics of the medium. 9/10

Writer: Ken Garing
Art: Ken Garing
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I’m a sucker for a good space-faring crash-landing and survival tale - see Travis Charest’s Spacegirl and even Bill Waterson’s Spaceman Spiff strips from Calvin And Hobbes - so I made sure that this appeared on my pull-list as soon as it surfaced in Previews.  That decision has proven to be a winner as this is a perfect example of how to kick off such a story.  In the early pages Garing leaves much to his visual storytelling as Silas takes a quick and direct journey from orbit to planetside on a mysterious bundle of rock populated by dangerous mechanical leviathans and the occasional friendly fellow survivor.  Garing’s clearly a talented artist and not a single panel feels unnecessary through the entire issue; pages 2 and 3 are tremendously effective at setting up the delightful posterbook moment that follows, filling the page with a brilliant diesel-tinged scene of desolation.  Sometimes the use of an analytical AI can be overplayed, but it certainly helps here to establish what Silas is facing and what he has at his disposal in order to survive.  With the prospect of a slightly wider cast next time out I’ll wait and see if Garing manages to keep things focused and on track, but so far this is looking incredibly promising.  8/10

Matt C: Planetoid started life as a digital-only comic available through Graphicly and generated enough buzz to catch the attention of Image who obviously saw it as a worthy addition of their rapidly expanding roster of creator-owned content. Even before you get into the nuts and bolts of the plot is clear to see what Image saw in the project - impressive, sweeping, dystopian sci-fi illustrations that pull the reader right into the dark, ominous landscapes of the titular planetoid. Essentially writer/artist Ken Garing has taken a well-worn sci-fi staple - pilot attempts to survive after crash-landing his ship on unknown planet - but as always its the telling of the tale that's the key, and Garing gets things off to a solid, intriguing start. What will clinch it is which direction the story heads from here, but as this is only a five-parter, based on the quality of this debut I'm pretty confident I'll be around for the duration. 7/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Dustin Nguyen & John Kalisz
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: I’m kind of at a point where I think I might be done with American Vampire in the monthly format. Although I still enjoy it I’m thinking that I might get more out of it in a collected edition where I can read the stories in one hit rather than spread out over chapters that often seem very brief and not entirely fulfilling, narratively speaking. I’m making an exception for this miniseries based on the success of the first spin-off from the main title, last year’s Survival Of The Fittest. That was a thoroughly entertaining boys own adventure that was able to stand on its own two feet by not requiring intimate knowledge of the ongoing series. That’s sort of the case here too, although perhaps reading Survival Of The Fittest would be beneficial rather than coming to this fresh. It’s dramatically paced with an excellent cliffhanger, and although Nguyen’s art isn’t quite as instantaneously impressive as Sean Murphy’s, it has a dark energy powering it along that ensures it makes its mark. Snyder proves again that there’s plenty of life left in his undead subject matter, and in whatever format you wish to consume it, it’s still worth sticking with American Vampire. 8/10

James R: I like it when, as a fanboy, I can tell if a book is going to be quality before I've even picked it up. Today, I give you Exhibit A: American Vampire: Lord Of Nightmares. Written by Scott Snyder? Check. Sequel to the Paradox Comics Group's Miniseries of the Year? Check. Illustrated by Streets Of Gotham artist Dustin Nguyen? Check! I felt this one wouldn't disappoint, and it certainly rewards my faith. It's a continuation of the Survival Of The Fittest mini, and the action is shifted forward to the 1950s as we learn that the Big Daddy of all Vampires has been sprung from his vault guarded by the Vassals of the Morning Star. Agent Hobbes has to seek out Agent Book in order to stop the nefarious plan to wake the King of the Carpathian vampires. Once again, it reads like the best vampire movie blockbuster never made. Snyder infuses his plot with perfect pace and atmosphere, and Nguyen turns in some of his best ever work. An extra nod too for the colours of John Kalisz, who gives the book both a dreamy and a nightmarish quality. On the evidence here, it looks like Snyder might have a strong claim for miniseries of the year once again. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Kristian Donaldson & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: I’ll admit it took a while for me to figure out exactly how much of a talented writer Brian Wood is, but once it became clear I started to feel compelled to check out almost everything he puts his name to (almost – I’m not getting involved in the Ultimate Universe again at this juncture!). It’s fair to say that if it’s a creator-owned project then the chances are you’re in for something intelligent, ambitious and completely consuming and from the looks of things that’s what we’ll be getting with The Massive. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a team of environmentalists sail the Kapital across the sea in search of its sister ship, The Massive, this earns points right off the bat for the inherent irony in the concept of so-called ‘oceanic activists’ taking the role of protagonists where, to all intents and purposes, Mother Earth has risen up to smite the human race with a stream of devastating disasters (a nice flashbacky history lesson fills us in on the way). This first issue is unsurprisingly taken up with an introduction to the environment the story operates in along with some its main players. There’s no rush to overload the reader with too much information here, which indicates Wood is down for playing the long game. Donaldson’s art is quite clean and there doesn’t seem to be much variation in facial expressions, but he certainly understands the scale and scope of the tale which leads me to think the best is yet to come. In much the same way  as the recently commenced Saga, The Massive comes with an overriding sense of a world that feels lived in and ripe for exploration. To go for the obvious pull-quote, this is a voyage you need to make sure you’re part of. 8/10

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

Stewart R:  Much of the Bat-related praise this week will no doubt head in the direction of the main title, but I urge you to have a look in Tomasi’s direction as well if you want to see just how this New 52 Gotham is being broadened and darkened.  Firstly we have the terrific group of Batman victims who are being encouraged to take up arms in a unified move against the family of the Caped Crusader - this highlights Tomasi’s keen eye for planning and looking at the so-called ‘little people’ in his comics and it’s one of the facets of his writing that I really enjoy.  Then we have the neat reminder that in spite of Bruce’s attempts to bring his family together there are still the grudges and plays for superiority that happen when a group of young men (brothers?) are told to ‘play nice’.  I enjoyed Damian’s outlook here and it’s definitely going to make for interesting reading over the coming issues as he tries to make his mark on the Robin name by besting the previous incarnations in various ways.  While the last few issues have involved Bruce less, we still get a look into his rationale on keeping the murder of NoBody from the rest of the clan and it’s used well to highlight how the various Robins share great differences, but also some similarities.  Patrick Gleason of course doesn’t put a foot (or pencil) wrong and I absolutely love his composition on that first page as we learn of the ‘victims’ interactions with Batman.  Terrific stuff!  9/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen & Hi-Fi
DC $2.99

Stewart R:  Oh boy!  Blackest Night seems like an age ago yet Johns is still managing to pull little nuggets of gold out of his key Green Lantern event.  With the Indigo Tribe off the chain and out for blood this could have spilled over into a simple action-based chase issue, but he elects to keep things a touch more complex and shows how the balance of power/certainty between Hal and Sinestro is ever shifting.  Johns crafts some neat exchanges between the two and from what I’ve read in these past few issues I’d almost swear that we’re going to be left with yet another Universe-shaking surprise involving one of them when the dust settles and clouds clear from their inevitable clash with the Guardians.  While I feel that perhaps an opportunity was missed to look a little closer at the individual stories of the Indigo Tribe in their offline state, it’s easy to see that with the Hal/Sinestro antics and the William Hand side-plot (OH...MY...WORD!!) this could have easily filled two issues or more had he gone down that route, which would have threatened to slow the exhilarating pace too much.  The art team once again bring the grade A material to the table and there’s no doubt that this run in collected form, or as a back issue purchase from your local comics retailer, will be a visual delight for any potential buyer.  9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Phil Noto & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

James R: Uncanny X-Force has been one of the two books (Wolverine & the X-Men being the other) that have finally won me over to the X-Men in a big way. I’ve loved Rick Remender's unique blend of dark action, invention and humour in the title, but I felt it lost its way a little during the Otherworld tale, so it's great to see that the current 'Final Execution' storyline sees the book back to its best. X-Force have been targeted by an equally shadowy group intent on their destruction. On paper, this seems like standard comics fare, but let's face it, as Tolstoy once said "There are only two stories: a stranger comes to town and a man goes on a journey" - the skill often lies not in the plotting, but in the execution of the details. Remender finds new ways to entertain and compel the readership; in this issue, check out Wolverine's solution to being turned obesely fat and how that impacts on Deadpool. It's deranged, but also insanely fun too. Phil Noto's art is nice, but it's Dean White's colours that really give this book a distinctive character. As an added bonus, it was great to see the staff and students of the Jean Grey School make a cameo too. While Avengers Vs. X-Men is predictably dragging in every Marvel title in sight, it's refreshing to see Remender ploughing on regardless here. A down and dirty pleasure from beginning to end!  8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonthan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
DC $2.99

James R: Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis shouldn't be surprised that this is my book of the week. Ever since Scott Snyder took the helm of Batman's adventures, he has never turned in anything but pure quality. Issue #10 is a 'payoff' read as he reveals just who is behind the Court of the Owls, and rather than just being the usual standard Snyder greatness, the author shows us that he's got yet more skills at his disposal. Without spoiling the issue for anyone, Snyder reveals that Batman's nemesis is a true dark reflection of himself. Part of the appeal of Batman as a character is that many of his rogues gallery reflect elements of the Dark Knight (see Frank Millar's Dark Knight Returns for this idea crystallised). Snyder has recognised this, and added a villain who is this and more. The writer has channelled this character from the rich history of Batman (and check out this excellent article by Chris Sims at Comics Alliance for more details) and in this way, Snyder is now showing skills that Grant Morrison is lauded for. The art team as usual are superb and my criticism in issue #1 that Lincoln Marsh was illustrated as indistinguishable from Bruce Wayne... well, now I take it all back! A thrilling read from first page to last, and a book that is not only delivering quality every month but is also a fine example of how rich and enjoyable superhero books can be. Magnificent. 9/10

Matt C: Some folks are going to react negatively to this issue, and no mistake. Without giving too much away Snyder introduces a ‘new’ character, revealing a hitherto unknown (to most) part of the Wayne lineage that may prove a step too far for certain readers. It’s a character that existed a long time ago, before any of the multi-universal reboots took place, but his arrival here is going to take some getting used to for those of us who haven’t been reading Batman books for forty plus years. Me, I’m a little unsure of the revelation, but having placed so much trust in Snyder up to this point, and having that trust repaid with what is arguably the best book of the New 52, I’m more than willing to believe he knows exactly what he’s doing. Saying that, even considering what we learn here, it was the weakest chapter of the storyline so far because, barring the aforementioned reveal, it was a tad flat and predictable. It’s still head and shoulders above most of DC’s other current superhero output, and unless the conclusion is massively fumbled next month I can’t see that changing. 7/10

1 comment:

Andy C said...

Excellent reviews as ever, guys. I picked up Planetoid and The Massive on the strength of your reviews and very happy with both. Cheers for the recommendations. Both are strong first issues, although not as good as Saga so far, which has been almost perfect (robots with TVs having sex...really?!). Totally agree with the feeling that Uncanny X-Force is back to full strength as well, Otherworld arc was a bit pants....