8 Jul 2012

Mini Reviews 08/07/2012

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: Len Wein
Art: Jae Lee
DC $3.99

Matt C: Strictly speaking, this issue suffers from the same problem that has plagued a number of these miniseries, in that it initially feels unnecessary, elaborating on something that Moore and Gibbons did far more succinctly. We’ve already seen Ozymandias' life history summarised in Watchmen and the question that really presents itself is exactly what else can be exhumed from his past to make this series successfully brush off accusations of 'cash-in'? Once you open the book up and take a look at the artwork, the words 'cash-in' start to fall by the wayside though because, visually at least, this is a labour of love by Jae Lee. He's a very distinctive artist and I've always liked his work, but I don't believe I've ever seen from him bring the level of detail, sophistication and expert composition that he brings to every panel here. The script is more problematic, going over the same ground as Watchmen #11, but Wein makes it more workable by the way he takes Veidt’s pompous first-person narration, underlying the self-importance of the titular character, and very much emphasising his subjective interpretation of events. It certainly doesn’t feel essential, but the craft on display means its well worth a look, although it may ultimately not prove to be as rewarding as some of the other series under the Before Watchmen banner. 7/10

James R: I'm aware that this may just be a consequence of having to write establishing issues, but with Before Watchmen I'm getting a strong feeling of 'Why bother?'. Outside of Darwyn Cooke's two books, the stories have been uninspiring retreads of the original's narrative. Ozymandias is a case in point - Len Wein simply reproduces Alan Moore's work from issue #11 of Watchmen. With five more issues to run, I'm interested to see just how much space Wein has to work in. Given that the original element of this story is 'Ozymandias goes out looking for revenge' I'm not sure that's enough to drive what should be an outstanding comic above the mundane. One redeeming factor is the art of Jae Lee who undoubtedly produces the best work of his career here - each page is exquisitely illustrated and designed. However, that leaves us with the comics equivalent of a supermodel - very nice to look at, but very little going on where it matters. 4/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Olivier Coipel
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R:  Clearly we were teased with excellence by Hickman and Coipel last time out as this new instalment, now under the creative guidance of Fraction, slips from its predecessor’s pedestal and falls perilously close to the mediocrity of the earlier chapters in the series.  To be fair that may be something of an over-reaction as this is still well delivered in terms of an event book, with the Avengers trying to lead a fight back against the Phoenix-driven X-Men, but I just found the previous high-level ideas and themes of #6 to be so engaging.  Here Fraction still manages to address several different plot and character threads, with the cracks clearly beginning to show in the ranks of the Phoenix Five who are struggling to contain the power that they have been imbued with.  I loved the interaction between T’challa and Tony Stark as the latter once again teeters on the brink of letting guilt and responsibility blinker his vision on finding a solution and certainly the clash of personalities between Cyclops and Namor, with Emma Frost in Lady-MacBeth-onlooker mode, adds an extra dimension to the X-Men’s struggle.  Coipel is definitely an artist working at the top of his game if last issue is anything to go by, but here it feels that he’s just a little too confined by the surroundings on one or two occasions and I longed for him to have the opportunity to splash out with another grand double page example of glorious scope that we were perhaps spoiled with previously.  It is indeed tough to follow up a 10/10 score, but you know what? This is still very much deserving of an 8/10

Matt C: The consensus was that the last, Hickman-helmed issue was the highlight of the series so far with its sharp focus on strong (if slightly hackneyed) ideas and some majestic artwork. This instalment, penned by Fraction, is a step back again, lacking the clarity of the previous issue with its more muddled approach to the narrative structure, bringing to mind last year's disastrous Fear Itself (which Fraction was also responsible for).  It's not as bad as that though, and does feature some very effective moments, especially when the Black Panther bitch slaps Tony Stark(!), but considering how well the previous chapter played out I'm even more convinced Hickman should have scripted the whole event with Coipel taking on the illustrating duties. Although, having said that, the imagery is nowhere near as powerful as it was in issue #6, giving the impression that Coipel had to rush to get things done. It's still superior to Romita Jr's efforts early on and overall the story continues to head in a more interesting direction which will hopefully lead to a few more pleasant surprises before we reach the conclusion. 6/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: One of the most intriguing titles to hits the stands in recent months, Mind MGMT does initially come across as something of a genre potboiler, the kind of high concept that TV networks like to squeeze as much mileage out of as they can (usually with middling results). Fortunately, once you dig in, it becomes clear that Kindt's tale has multiple layers that begin to peel back as the story progresses. Not only are we presented with an unknown narrator in this issue who appears to be manipulating events for his own purposes, but yet again the additional content expands on the ideas to a significant degree, tying into the plot but also existing as important pieces of the overall puzzle themselves (and that goes for the illuminating field guidelines that run along the gutter of every page!). The unpolished nature of the artwork may put some off but personally I find it extremely effective at delivering the tone of the tale. Mind MGMT is another valid piece of evidence for the argument that most of the best work in 2012 is coming from the creator-owned arena. 8/10

James R: Two issues in, and Matt Kindt's intrigue-packed series establishes itself as an absolute must-read. This month, we continue to follow Meru as she desperately tries to outrun the sinister agents on her trail and dig deeper into the mystery of the ‘Amnesia Flight’. Kindt infuses the plot with a real sense of urgency and pace while still giving us plenty of fascinating characters and mystery. Apart from being a well-crafted tale, this comic feels rammed with content and ideas. It's hugely refreshing to read a book that's been so meticulously planned, and there's a real sense that Kindt is pulling out all the stops on this. I have no idea how long he can keep up this narrative pace for, or at what point he'll have to start showing us the big picture, but for now Mind MGMT has established itself as the book on top of my monthly pile. 9/10

Writer:Jeff Lemire
Art: Alberto Poticelli, Wayne Faucher & Lovern Kindzierski
DC $2.99

Stewart R:  Well, with a much-needed change of pace and emphasis, things feel like they’re back on track here.  It’s now clear that Lemire’s decision to put Buddy through the wringer, having his body stolen by a vile member of the Rot who now threatens the Baker family, was a keen mechanism to allow for the reinvention of Animal Man and his powerset.  Buddy’s return from the Red is full of excitement as he rushes to save his son from a gruesome end.  I really enjoyed Lemire putting the Totem of the Red, Socks, into the mix a little more and defining just what sort of level of protection the strange creature can offer in this battle.  Then, when Buddy arrives on the scene, Poticelli does a superb job of displaying his new morphing abilities which will surely make this hero a far more interesting prospect from a visual point of view moving forward.  A slight twist at the end highlights that this series sits clearly in the darker spectrum of the DC Universe and the fact that for every ray of hope there seems to be twice as many shadows lurking in the wings keeps this clearly in the category of winners for the New 52.  9/10

Matt C: When this book started up it was one of the clear winners of the whole New 52 relaunch; fresh, inventive and wonderfully creepy, it stood out from the pack and pulled in plenty of readers who, like myself, only had a basic familiarity with Buddy Baker. It had momentum for the first story arc but since then it's felt like it's been stalling, not really getting much further forward with the whole Rot, Green and Red storyline, almost like it was biding its time before the much ballyhooed crossover with Swamp Thing (a title I dropped early on). Of course I understand these elements are integral to Lemire's approach to the character, but I've found myself losing interest, and now we reach the end of the second arc - and before the plot gets tied directly into Swamp Thing - it's a good time to bail out. I still enjoy the 'body horror' aspects of the artwork and the family dynamics are well realised, but the book isn't engaging me in the way it once was, and – perhaps worryingly? - canning this brings my ongoing DC pull-list down to three titles. 6/10

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

Stewart R:  In a week where I wound up with 15 titles in my pull-list to wade through I found it difficult to not only recall just what had transpired in the last issue of this crime thriller but also to get immersed in the botched heist events that were contained within this one.  Ever since it was announced that there was a high likelihood this was going to be transformed into a television series I’ve been picking it up each month and have found myself less and less interested in what has been unfolding.  Spencer is doing a reasonable job with the dialogue and the tense games of bluff and double-bluff, but it hasn’t prevented it from appearing to be mired in crime-cliché, coming off as something of a Heat/Ocean’s Eleven mashup.  The problem here is that perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking of or referencing such cinematic examples when reading a comic, but my perspective has most definitely been skewed with the knowledge of how this project was being pitched in the first place. Add to that the fact that the protagonist of the piece remains as enigmatic to the reader six issues in as he does to the authority types trying to take him down and you have a series that is likely to be best left to trade collection and even then possibly only worth picking up if the show proves a success. Disappointing and the point where we part ways. 4/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Daniel Acuna
Marvel $3.99

James R: This book has become the real surprise package on my pull list. After the last issue, which amazed me with it's idiosyncrasy and intelligence, (focusing on the subterranean world of Mister Sinister) this month Kieron Gillen brings in the Phoenix Five to excellent effect. The narrative picks up on the strands of Hickman's issue of AVX as the Phoenix Five debate the ethics of destroying Sinister. At the same time Gillen highlights the consequences of living in Pax Utopia for the rest of the X-Men, who are quickly finding themselves surplus to requirements. By the end of the issue, we're brought to the point of battle, and I can't wait to see how the next two chapters in this arc deal with that and it's consequences. In some ways, this is turning into a bittersweet read as we now know the book will be no more after the 'Marvel Now' relaunch. My advice is to enjoy this while you can, and I hope Bendis realises he's got to up his game to produce X-books this enjoyable. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R:  With only six issues to go before Lemire wraps up the series we finally get a window into Gus’ mysterious past and just how he and his late father came to be living in their isolated woodland home. Lemire has shown his tremendous talents for multiple methods of storytelling and here he transposes Dr Singh’s arrival at the Alaskan science facility against a depiction of Gus’s father living a sad and tragic existence while working at the same location years earlier.  The splitting of each page into a ‘Now and Then’ section really helps to separate this from your usual run of the mill flashback chapters.  Singh’s detective work and assumptions about his historical quarry are subtly and purposefully flawed by Lemire to highlight just how difficult it is to piece together a mystery when biased by your own beliefs and based on so little evidence, and his steady realisation that things were not as he expected them to be is captured brilliantly.  And then there’s the further twist in the tale as things get tied up closer to the events that transpired in early 20th Century Alaska (see Sweet Tooth #26 and #27) and the offering of yet another delicious cliffhanger.  Five more to go and there’s no doubt that they’re going to be unmissable.  8/10

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