24 Jun 2012

Mini Reviews 24/06/2012

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: Brian Azzarello
Art: JG Jones & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

Matt C: This is easily the most difficult debut issue of the Before Watchmen project to review so far. There’s a big part of me that thinks it’s the best one yet; Azzarello appears to have the mindset that the smartest way to tackle this miniseries is to not treat Watchmen like the ultimate comics sacred cow, a work that must be viewed only with the greatest reverence and respect. That’s not to say he’s attempting to piss over Moore and Gibbon’s masterwork, rather that he’s not in thrall to it and is prepared to take an almost iconoclastic approach to the material. Which is basically another way of saying I think a lot of people are going to be quite upset by what the writer’s done here. Me, I think it’s an audacious move on his part, and involving the titular character with the Kennedys actually works a treat – the Comedian may have been a psychotic, misogynistic bastard but he was never portrayed as purely evil. There was always a self-awareness to him, an understanding of what kind of person he needed to be to exist in a world brimming with moral uncertainties. And yes, it’s not a stretch to believe that he would be attracted to the power of the Kennedy family. Where this gets difficult is when you refer back to the penultimate chapter/issue of Watchmen where Ozymandias says “Still, I observed Blake over the years… Know what? He was in Dallas, minding Nixon, the day Kennedy died. Nobody’s sure why Nixon was there.” That doesn’t really jibe with the events that occur here. There’s still time for Azzarello to offer an explanation and I was impressed enough by the twisted and unexpected plot he’s started rolling here (along with Jones polished artwork) to overlook it for now. So this gets the thumbs up, but if it does turn out there is a gargantuan plothole sitting right in the middle of it (and I find it hard to believe Azzarello – or DC – would let that slip by) then I may be forced to reassess. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: Do call it a comeback! After taking flak from a fair few fanboys, and indeed many of us in the Paradox gang, Marvel's big event for 2012 suddenly leaps up several gears, and it's astonishing. After the Phoenix force got split at the end of the last issue, we see that it's recipients have wasted little time in harnessing their new powers to create a better world. As Cyclops and co. start reshaping the Earth, the Avengers have been left floundering in their wake - how do you fight someone who is driven by benevolence rather than malevolence? Several sites have flagged up the similarity between this and Alan Moore's final Marvelman arc, 'Olympus'. It is a fair comparison, and it goes without saying that it's not the only time this plot has been tried; Grant Morrison's Hyperclan did a similar thing at the start of his run on JLA, and more tellingly, this issue's writer, Jonathan Hickman, examined these themes in his remarkable Image series, Pax Romana (in fact, Cyclops dubs the Phoenix Five's project 'Pax Utopia' here!). All these stories all point to the same conclusion - utopias are flawed, and things never ends well. Hickman drops plenty of hints that this will go the same way, but this issue is such a stratospheric leap in quality, I'm desperate to see where the story goes next. Two other points of note: Coipel's pencils are sublime, and check out that page count - 36 story pages! Compare this to the 20 pages that you got for the same money for Hickman's Ultimates #1... it looks like somebody at Marvel is listening. Hurrah! I can't remember a more satisfying 'event' issue, and my effusive praise is only tempered by the fact it took five middling issues to get to this point. AVX has hit its stride now though, and it's a joy to behold. 9/10

Matt C: Just when it looked like this event miniseires was nose-diving into mediocrity along comes Hickman and Coipel to give it a right royal kick up the backside, resulting in the best issue (by some margin) so far. The basic plot hasn’t changed its direction (unsurprisingly) but Hickman invigorates proceedings with hitherto unseen level of intelligence (that spills over into some delicious dialogue) and a sense of importance that has, for the most part, proven elusive. There’s a really strong focus being applied here along with some interesting ideas that, while not exactly new to the genre, are handled particularly well. Then you have Coipel on art duties whose illustrations, if I’m brutally honest, are far superior to Romita Jr’s work on the series, which leaves you wondering why Hickman and Copiel weren’t the main guys on this project from the beginning. Obviously the fortnightly release schedule may have suffered, but perhaps the series would have been vastly improved overall? AVX has momentum again – let’s hope it can be sustained. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Gabriel Ba & Cris Peter
Marvel/Icon  $4.99

Matt C: Casanova has always had something of the unhinged about it, but this miniseries in particular has regularly seen it get very close to coming completely off the rails. Don’t get me wrong, I still think this character, this story, is where Fraction has come nearest to touching genius (and arguably has done on several occasions) but in Avaratia there’s been this feeling, for me at least, that the madness was always one step away from consuming the entire project. There is, as ever, an overabundance of dazzling ideas vying for the reader’s attention, but more so than any other Casanova mini, I found myself getting a bit lost. That’s always been part of the appeal though, I guess – sometimes it seems to overwhelm into brilliant incomprehensibility before pulling itself back with moments of supreme clarity – but here it’s felt like Fraction has had a bit of trouble trying wrangle his fever dream plot into something cohesive. But still, there’s way too much tripped-out ingenuity on display to ever dismiss this, and with an artist like Ba onboard it never looks anything less than beautiful. Casanova frustrates as often as it astounds, but it’s unlikely I’d ever turn down an opportunity to revisit this world. 7/10

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

Stewart R:  As this series moves on it becomes increasingly clear that it is indeed a title for a more mature audience and if there had ever been any doubt whatsoever then Vaughan and Staples take everyone on a trip to the planet Sextillion (with everything that that name implies).  I’ll admit that I’ve actually forgotten the reasons for The Will to head to such a destination in the first place (and I haven’t been able to locate my copy of #3 to remind myself as yet) but the whole piece manages to add yet another colourful view of this strange universe and certainly shows us a bit about the sort of moral code that this professional killer follows.  Meanwhile the relationship of Alana and Marko gets further strained thanks to the delusional near-death ramblings about a former lover.  It’s a nicely realised scene as the couple discuss and work their way through the blip of mistrust and it works well to balance out the erotic craziness of the other plot thread.  Staples is a complete boon to this story as it’s her subtlety with the expressions that helps to sell the drama of the young marriage, and when it comes to the risqué moments she’s perfectly weighted the need for shock against the need for taste and it’s terrific to see an artist working in the zone in this way.  Getting better with every issue.  8/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Richard Elson & Ifansyah Noor
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: This one’s kind of special. Featuring references to the Hacienda, Alan Moore and the Sex Pistols, amongst other things, this appears to be Gillen’s opportunity to comment on the state of a nation (dear old Blighty) through the prism of a comic featuring Asgardian gods and superheroes. On paper that may sound faintly ridiculous but Gillen makes it work by applying a keen cultural sensibility to the title’s usual mix of intelligence and humour. Some of the more specific references may fly over the head of our transatlantic cousins, but it’s clear the writer is having a whale of time bringing his cast to his own stomping ground, and that enthusiasm seeps out of every page (with the help of Elson’s visuals, of course). Tackling a county’s identity, how it perceives itself against how it should be perceived, takes some doing in a mainstream comic book, but Gillen pulls it off in style here. And for that, along with the overall exuberance of his storytelling, is something that should be loudly applauded. 9/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Kano, Tony Akins, Dan Green & Matthew Wilson
DC $2.99

James R: After a strong start, I felt this book was meandering a little - as much as I thought Brian Azzarello's take on Wonder Woman (placing her story as part of the ancient gods) was interesting, in narrative terms it was starting to run out of steam. The good news is that issue #10 caps the 'Wonder Woman in Hell' arc beautifully with an issue that resonates like one of the myths the title is inspired by. Wonder Woman has to extract herself from her marriage to Hades, and the resolution here brings to mind Neil Gaiman's work (both Sandman and the prose novel American Gods). It doesn't quite match those lofty heights, but it's really refreshing to read a comic where the solution to a problem is not brawn and repeatedly punching someone in the face (fun though that may be, right kids?!) but reason and reflection. Despite the fact that the art duties are split, the art team do a fine job of making the transition seamless.  I do feel the book now needs a little change of pace and scenery, but it's remaining safely on my pull list for another arc. 8/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Dustin Weaver, Cam Smith Craig Yeung & Jim Charalampidis
Marvel $3.99

James R: I picked up Uncanny last month on the recommendation of our own Stewart R - I had complained that AVX felt groundless and random, and he wisely pointed me in the direction of Gillen's X-book. I enjoyed it enough to see where it would go this month, and it has turned into a piece of good fortune, as this issue is a treat. The story focuses on Mr. Sinister, who is currently attempting to create his own utopia in the shape of Sinister London, deep beneath the Earth's surface. The city is populated with clones of Sinister, and we follow the story of one clone who plots to kill the villain. Within this seemingly simple tale, Gillen adds some familiar SF tropes and mixes them with 19th century literature (I was reminded of Joseph Conrad and Dostoyevesky's Notes from Underground) and thankfully never gets close to anything like Steampunk in the process. Dustin Weaver's art is beautiful, and Jim Charalampidis' colours give the issue a fittingly aged sheen. If you would have told me at the start of 2011 that in 18 months Marvel would be producing three accessible and essential X-Men titles that were among my favourite books, I would have told you to go and lie down in a darkened room with a cold compress on your deluded head! But fair play to editor Nick Lowe - he's assembled a brilliant roster of talents to deliver the tales of the Children of the Atom. 8/10

Writer: Peter J.Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99

Stewart R:  The Alpha War is really giving Tomasi the opportunity to delve deeply into the laws and ethics that govern the Green Lantern Corps and show just how the Guardians subtle manipulations are threatening to tear everything apart, squaring Lantern against Lantern as the disagreements continue.  The trial of John Stewart has been handled well, not lingering too long on the courtroom affairs and focusing more on Stewart’s attitude towards the crime he has been found guilty of as well as the perspectives and actions of his comrades.  In some ways it’s actually a frustrating (in that good way) read to sit and watch the Guardians’ plan unfold before my eyes with hardly an unplanned blip apparently turning up to threaten to derail everything, but I’m sure that as things get progressively worse we’ll be certain to receive the big payoffs and ‘YES!!’ moments.  Whatever occurs further down the line with this title I’m sure I’ll look back and still admire the engrossing and mature comic book read that we’ve been presented with here.  8/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kev Walker, Terry Pallot, Frank Martin Jr & Antonio Fabela
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R:  Or Thunderbolts #176 as this should rightly be titled as there’s nary a Dark Avenger in bleedin’ sight!  In any case, this is another fine chapter from Parker and Walker as they continue the time travelling craziness of the Thunderbolts team who are cast even further back into the chronological ether.  I really enjoyed the tie-in to the events of another Marvel title - no spoilers here, you’ll just have to see for yourself - and it seems that the bickering amongst the team has adopted a more desperate tone following the loss of a key member.  Based on what transpires here I still get the feeling that the Dark Avengers are indeed where the future of this book lies in the midterm, but I’m glad that we’re getting to see this journey through to its climax and hopefully some of this ramshackle group will still be involved as things continue. 8/10

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