15 Jul 2012

Min Reviews 15/07/2012

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: Sean Murphy
Art: Sean Murphy
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: It may seem strange to begin with, but Christianity and comics often make for a dynamic combination: Garth Ennis' Preacher, Mark Millar's Chosen and in a tangential way, Mike Carey's Lucifer all found success by riffing on and being inspired by Christian concepts. As of this week, we can add another title to that list in the shape of Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus. The story takes place in the near future where a terrifically egregious TV producer Mr. Slate decides to clone Jesus from DNA from the Shroud of Turin. Before you (rightfully) shout "Hey! But the Shroud of Turin was proved to be from way after the first century!", Murphy addresses this directly by saying that for some Christians carbon dating can't be trusted, which is one of the things that impressed me about this book - the writer/artist cleverly balances both sides of the faith debate. If (like me) you back science over religion, that view is given plenty of support, but at the same time Murphy makes a convincing case that if someone claimed to be cloning Jesus, there would be an awful lot of people that buy into it. The theological side to the comic is just one part of its greatness though - this is also the tale of Thomas McKael, a former IRA man who turned on his own brigade to avoid prison, and is now the head of security for Slate and the J2 project. He's portrayed as a man carved out of rock, but behind this alpha male is someone whose life as been defined and scarred by a war partially based on faith in Northern Ireland. Space restricts me from highlighting the rest of the cast, but Murphy has done an awesome job of making them complex and compelling people. The whole package looks fantastic - it is Sean Murphy after all - but rendering this in black and white is a masterstroke. The book is dark and brooding, and highlights Murphy's detailed linework perfectly. This tale is only six issues long, but on the evidence of this first chapter, it's going to be a wild ride. 9/10

Stewart R:  Creator owned, creator written, creator drawn, $2.99, black and white, punk, rock, Jesus.... yes, yes, YES!!  Some 8 years in the making - Murphy was asked about such timelines at San Diego this weekend - this is a brilliant take on the potential of mass media entertainment to become a primary driving force behind technological and scientific innovation, and just where organised religion and individual belief systems still have their own influence.  At this early stage it is fair to say that the ‘punk rock’ element is yet to arrive but the ‘Jesus’ aspect is in full effect as a questionable corporation attempts to use cutting edge bioscience to produce a clone from DNA found in the Turin Shroud.  Despite the high brow science and societal concepts involved, Murphy keeps things incredibly well grounded with exceptional characterisation and the constant questioning by various parties as to whether this experiment should be conducted.  The unexpected early tangent into the tragic childhood events of an eventual IRA defector adds an extra level of menace and mystery to the later reality-TV politics, and Murphy makes great use of the odd page here and there dedicated to news reports and debate shows that add the necessary levels of exposition and ethical analysis.  The decision to deliver this as a black and white book is a masterstroke with Murphy’s linework crisp, clean and incredibly effective.  Vertigo were starting to look a little thin in the titles and ideas department recently; this one issue alone has gone a huge way to addressing that!  Superb!  9/10

Matt C: Sean Murphy is clearly a supremely talented illustrator, his detailed, assured linework being one of the notable highlights of both the Joe The Barbarian and the American Vampire: Survival Of The Fittest miniseries over the last couple of years, but not all comic artists are cut out to be writers (although that doesn't stop some of them from giving wordsmithery a shot). Vertigo aren't in the habit of giving artists vanity projects though, so it was kind of a given that Murphy had some measure of skill in the writing department, and that becomes undeniably apparent within the first few pages of this debut issue of Punk Rock Jesus. It's a great central premise - a reality TV show following a project to clone Christ from DNA sourced from the Turin Shroud - and Murphy makes it a compelling read by not only trotting out the expected (but strongly presented) moral arguments but also approaching the concept from a surprisingly perfect angle: our central character at this point is an ex IRA man (a dead ringer for Frank Castle!) who now finds himself as the non-nonsense head of security for the project. There's enormous potential for some powerful observations on faith and belief here, and with such a smart script meshing with some predictably striking artwork, this neatly positions itself as the next must-have Vertigo book. 9/10

Writer: Tim Seeley
Art: Mike Norton & Mark Englert
Image $2.99

Stewart R:  In a heavy week for my pull-list I very nearly didn’t give this a spot in my order, however a vague memory of interest and promise from reading Previews a few months back nagged at me and I luckily included it on the list.  Comic book stories about quarantined or isolated townships suffering from supernatural or mysterious phenomena haven’t exactly been a rarity in recent years, but there’s an instant feeling in Seeley’s writing and Norton’s art that this is something a touch different from what we’ve seen before.  Dropping us into the story after the quarantine in rural Wisconsin has already been put into effect allows Seeley to introduce characters via their current opinions and feelings about the situation without the distraction of initial shock or other headstrong factors.  The relationship between the county sheriff and his officer daughter is interestingly respectful in an almost frosty way and I like the way that Seeley sews the family story together without shoving it too prominently in the readers face.  The actual mystery surrounding the revivals and those specifically returned to the living by the phenomenon is also subtly handled, mentioned by other characters in the main and then displayed in an exciting and rather disturbing sequence that highlights this as yet another Image series that shows incredible promise.  8/10

Writer: Simon Furman
Art: Andrew Wildman, Stephen Baskerville & John-Paul Bove
IDW $3.99

Stewart R:  And so the end is not now a new beginning...  Furman and Co return with a 20-issue expansion to the original Transformers comic story - this time delivered by IDW rather than Marvel - and for the most part dung this first full instalment there is a great feeling of continuity.  Furman is having to deal with a different overriding status quo since he pretty much wrapped up the millennium-spanning Cybertronian war in issues #75-80 back in the 1990s and the political groundwork that he’s laid down so far seems substantial and filled with the required amount of uncertainty from the characters.  Arguably Furman tended to work at his best when focussing on his stories from the perspective of one Transformer protagonist at a time and the decision to follow haggard veteran Kup as he flat out refuses to believe that the new era of peace will last is a stroke of genius.  I will say that while Kup still ‘sounds’ like he did all those years ago I do get the feeling that Furman may be trying to re-find his feet with the other familiar Autobots and Decepticons at the moment, so I’m hoping the characterisation will become a touch broader as this series progresses.  From an artistic standpoint it is certainly good to see the Wildman/Baskerville team back together for the sake of nostalgia more than anything else.  Having picked up the retrotastic Guido Guidi ‘B’ Cover I’d have liked to have seen the effort to make this look like a 1990s comic, however I can see why that wouldn’t necessarily work today.  As seen with Furman’s writing, I do get the feeling that Wildman is still to fully find his feet as some of the panels are wanting for a higher level of detail or a different camera angle.  There are definitely moments when the Transformers’ faces appear morphed by the inconsistency of the pencil and inks and I’ll certainly be hoping for a tightening of the artistic reigns as the months go on.  Not a terrific start but there’s still plenty of promise and nostalgia here.  7/10

Writer: Christos Gage
Art: Jorge Lucas
Image/Top Cow $1.00

Matt C: This is the way to do it. Instead of dumping an original graphic novel into a crowded market and hoping enough people like the premise and/or the creators to make it a success, why not put out the opening chapter for a dollar to enable readers to get a taste and see if the want to invest further? It certainly works for me: there are lot of OGNs that I like the look of but unless it’s got a name that I absolutely know brings will bring the stamp of quality (take this week’s new Parker book from Darwyn Cooke as an example) I’m a bit reluctant to release my funds for a purchase. A regular #1 issue is a great way to try out a series, but with a graphic novel if you don’t get on with it early on you’re stuck with the knowledge that you’ve already paid out for the rest of it. So, yeah, putting out the first chunk of Sunset is an astute idea (take heed, other publishers!) – even if I hadn’t got on with it I wouldn’t have begrudged paying $1.00 to give it a shot. Fortunately, not only did I enjoy the initial chapter of, it did it’s job by selling me on the full OGN due out next week. That’s the way to do it! It’s a very familiar plot set up – old con gets pulled out of retirement and onto a murderous rampage of revenge – and it could almost seem like a pitch for a movie if there’s wasn’t so much passion for the comic book medium exuding from every page. It’s grade-A badassery, with a taut, punchy script from Gage and some vaguely photorealistic, grizzled art from Lucas. See you in week’s time for the main event then! 8/10

Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke & Phil Noto
DC $3.99

Matt C: The debut issue felt very much like it was covering old ground, not really adding anything to the established mythos, but even then Cooke's supreme talent shone through, making it a thoroughly engaging if not essential read. This time around the miniseries has quite clearly hits its stride with a compelling plot developing outside of the already familiar narrative created by Moore and Gibbons, and ample space provided to flesh out some characters that were only sketched originally, highlighting their dysfunctional personalities. And then there's the art. It's no understatement to say I'm a huge, huge fan of Cooke's illustrative style; steeped in nostalgia but with a shiny, contemporary sheen, his panels are intoxicating, full of life, humour and excitement. For my money he's the best artist currently working in comics. If I'm going to find a flaw in this issue it'll be the final few pages where several (two? three?) separate plot threads are running concurrently and it's not entirely clear what's going on. It's a bit of a frustrating end to the chapter, but not to the extent that it brings down what is overall a damn fine comic. 8/10

James R: Thank goodness for Darwyn Cooke. After a couple of frankly shaky weeks for the Before Watchmen project, the second issue of Minutemen shows Cooke flexing his creative muscles and finding a balance between a story that feels true to the original while at the same time bearing the hallmarks of Cooke's craft. This issue shows us the first Minutemen working together - a group with the best intentions but more of a media exercise than a crime-fighting unit. Cooke introduces a dark case for the group with the discovery of a child murderer that may be one of their own number and juxtaposes three elements magnificently at the conclusion of the book - the grizzly discovery, a flashback to a German circus in 1920, and the illicit relationship between Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis. For the most part, Cooke has held back on referencing the classic 9-panel page design of Watchmen in this title (he's used it more overtly with Amanda Conner on Silk Spectre) but when he employs it here, it's to startling effect. Unlike the awful Nite Owl, there's a genuine sense of respect for Moore and Gibbon's masterpiece on display, and regardless of your opinion on the ethics of the project, judging Darwyn Cooke's work alone, this is outstanding. 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, Cam Smith & Guru EFX
Marvel $3.99

James R: In the same way that Kieron Gillen used the AVX event to serve up a beautiful one-shot issue over in Uncanny X-Men (in the shape of the Mr. Sinister issue) Jason Aaron’s latest issue of Wolverine & The X-Men fleshes out the character of Warbird, the protector to Kid Gladiator. Now, before I write any more, I should point out that Gillen has interviewed Aaron about this issue on his new podcast and t's well worth a listen! This issue won me over immediately by starting as a parody of the legendary 'The Abyss Stares Also' chapter of Watchmen where Rorschach revels his origin. Nick Bradshaw copies Dave Gibbon's panel layout, but inverts the meaning - where Rorschach lied about the horror the inkblots suggested to him, Warbird lies about the beauty she sees in order to become a lethal servant of the Shi'ar. The story then splits between her efforts to protect both Gladiator and his son from the Phoenix Five, and her past. Aaron focuses on the emotional cost of committing to a life of war and servitude, yet also manages to sandwich in some epic action and moments of levity before building to a hard-hitting emotional climax. Nick Bradshaw turns in another excellent issue, and this is another definite mark in the 'Win' column for both Marvel and AVX. I was hugely relieved to see that this title will be untouched by the 'Marvel NOW' event; Jason Aaron deserves a run as long as his epic Scalped on Wolverine & The X-Men. 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
DC $3.99

James R: Scott Snyder's 'Court of Owls' comes to an end this issue, and it's a massive disappointment... nah, who am I kidding? It's brilliant! As if there could be any doubt that Snyder would drop the ball when it came to the finale of this pitch-perfect arc, which can now safely be called a classic. Bruce Wayne goes toe-to-toe with Lincoln March in a battle that is suitably huge and deranged, as the men clash through and above Gotham. A special nod has to go to the art team of Capullo and Glapion who have been superb since issue #1 but go up another level here - at points I was reminded of Frank Miller circa The Dark Knight Returns, and it's a joy to know this team are staying together for at least another arc. The epilogue is masterful, with Snyder leaving the true identity of March in the balance and for us to decide... at least until he returns! I've said this before and I'll say it again - with the imminent release of The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Brothers will inevitably look to reboot the Batman franchise; they should really consider asking Snyder for his input as his grasp and understanding of the Bat-universe is impeccable. With the return of the Joker next month, it looks like the winning streak on this book is going on for some time yet. 9/10

Matt C: The cover proudly informs us that this is an "epic" conclusion to the 'Court Of Owls' storyline and while the arc has been hugely impressive for the most part, with Snyder and Capullo regularly pulling out all he stops to provide a gripping Dark Knight thrillride, this finale suffers from being too mired in cliché to really have the impact that was really needed. Lincoln March spends most of the issue beating the crap out of Batman while delivering the kind of expositional monologue that's one small step away from moustache-twirling. It's kind of necessary I guess, but it just feels clunky. Fortunately Capullo serves up some violent, kinetically-charged imagery to spice things up but whereas this at one stage felt like it was on course to become a fully-fledged Bat-classic, instead it’s turned out to be a decent tale that fell back on a tried and tested resolution rather than forging forward and breaking new ground. 6/10


Andy C said...

Great reviews (no surprise there as ever) and always good to see single titles covered by multiple reviewers. Hopefully you have had more hits this week due to reduced review listings by the 'big boys' who are all at SDCC.

On this occasion I have to agree with James and not Matt when it comes to Batman 11. Story arcs often end in a rushed and unsatisfying way but I thought Snyder, Capullo and co. did a great job wrapping this one up. #12 and #0 will no doubt be excellent but I wish the news about the Joker from #13 hadn't been released yet! Snyder's Joker in 'TEC was genius (and way too short) so it should be worth waiting for.........

Revival #1 was excellent, and Bloodshot was a really promising opener, way better than X-O Manowar #1 for my money. Sacrilege?

Will everyone please stop publishing so many great new titles!!!! Which brings me full-circle to Matt's posting in May about cutting your pull-list!

Matt Clark said...

Yeah, cutting the pull-list... I thought that was going well until I saw I had 15 titles to pick up this week!

Andy C said...

Nice work, fella, sounds like the list has been streamlined to perfection!!