1 Jul 2012

Mini Reviews 01/07/2012

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: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert & Brad Anderson
DC $3.99

Matt C: All the reservations and worries about the whole Before Watchmen project manifest themselves here in Nite Owl, the first of two minis penned by J. Michael Straczynski. I would say it’s not a pretty sight, but since the highlight of the issue is seeing Joe Kubert inking over his son Andy’s pencils, that wouldn’t be a fair assessment. At best, this is perfunctory rendition of the early years of the second Nite Owl which checks the boxes (his first meeting with the original Nite Owl, his first hook-up with Rorschach) in such a mundane manner that it seems like it only exists merely to fill in unnecessary blanks. It might help if it didn’t play out so predictably, but there’s a distinct lack of naturalism to many of the (forced) encounters. There are couple of moments where Straczynski’s talent for human drama shines through, but mostly it just feels like he’s going through the motions. The three previous debut issues have all been promising to various degrees; unless I hear that something amazingl happens in the remaining three instalments of this mini, I’ll probably wait to pick them up in a back issue box, if at all. 5/10

James R: So far, the Before Watchmen titles have gone pretty much to form - the high points being the work of Darwyn Cooke and career-best art from Amanda Conner. Brian Azzarello made a solid start on Comedian (but I have my reservations) and this week... well, this was the one I was worried about. Obviously, DC have primed this event to be a cash-spinner of epic proportions, (why have two miniseries when you can have six?!) but when I looked at the titles, I thought 'What can they possibly do with Nite Owl?' The answer is: very little. Straczynski offers up an unilluminating, vanilla origin story that tells us nothing about Dan Drieberg that the Alan Moore hadn't told us already before lurching into showing how Nite Owl and Rorschach became partners (a sequence which struck me as so out of keeping with the characters, it was hard to read). The motivation behind these titles is to reveal more about these beloved characters, but this book doesn't do that, it simply undermines them. The art team also made me raise my eyebrows - Joe Kubert is an industry legend, and his son's work is none too shabby, but working together here, it just doesn’t feel like a good fit. At one point, the art also confuses the story - as Nelson Gardner picks who is to be paired with who in the Crimebusters, Rorschach's name suddenly becomes Silk Spectre's. Is this Dr. Manhattan's work? It's impossible to tell! My attitude to Before Watchmen is to say 'wait and see' before judging, but with some confidence I can say this was one miniseries that should not have gone beyond the editor's desks. 2/10 

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: John Romita Jr, Tom Palmer & Dean White
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt C: By now you should you should have an idea of what you’re getting into with Millar and Romita Jr’s creations: sick, perverse (but often on-the-money) humour, outbursts of extreme ultraviolence and a smattering of pop culture references. If you’ve enjoyed both series of Kick-Ass then it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll enjoy this; if you didn’t, you’re extremely unlikely to find anything in Hit-Girl to change your mind. Even though there’s plenty to find objectionable about it on a number of levels if you’re that way inclined, personally I can’t deny I had an absolute blast reading it. And, when you flip through the pages, you realise that Romita Jr’s lacklustre performance on the first few issues of Avengers Vs. X-Men may well be down to him putting a great chunk of his creative energy into this. The only thing I’m scratching my head at is why this wasn’t released between Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 since it’s set between the two and there doesn’t seem to be any justifiable reason why it wasn’t published chronologically. 8/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker, Andres Guinaldo, Mark Irwin, Mariano Taibo & Stephen Downer
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: If you read this but didn’t manage to pick up a copy of the Hypernaturals FCBD edition then while you won’t find it incomprehensible by any stretch, I can tell you with confidence that you’re not going to get everything out of the story that you should. It reads fine as an introductory issue but you’ll have a better sense of the universe you’re dealing with if you’ve already had a look at the freebie. Fortunately you can get hold of the entire issue (legally, I might add) here, and it’s the wise thing to do if you’ve got an interest in this new BOOM! series. And if you were a fan of Abnett and Lanning’s work with Marvel’s cosmic pantheon then the chances are you’ll enjoy this book. On the surface it’s standard sci-fi superheroic fare but thankfully the writers inject the proceedings with the kind of breakneck pace and imagination that made the likes of Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy thrilling reads at their height. The switching around of artists doesn’t jar and there’s some strong work from all involved. It may seem to veer a little close to BOOM!’s Irredeemable on occasion but it’s a very promising start, and potentially a good replacement for that series. Just remember to read that FCBD edition before you crack this open! 8/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $2.99

James R: I've been mulling over what to say about this book for a couple of days, and I'm still not sure if I think it's brilliant or too self-indulgent. We often like to highlight books that you can thrust into the hands of people who have never picked up a comic or (more often) seen the light and decided to get back into comics. This certainly isn't one of them, as to really get what the hell is going on you need to pretty au fait with not only 40-odd years of Batman history, but also have read all of Grant Morrison's Batman run! Simultaneously though, this is a masterclass in storytelling. Morrison gives us the life story of Talia Al Ghul and how she has come to assume the role of Leviathan. As the story unfolds, we get to understand Talia's life, and how it has come to be defined by her relationship with two men - her father Ra's, and her sometime lover Bruce Wayne. As a massive Bat-fan, I unashamedly loved every page, all beautifully rendered by Chris Burnham. I'm aware that Morrison could be seen as stubborn here - the narrative flat-out ignores the DC re-boot/relaunch - but I have to salute his single-mindedness to finish up his epic 'Bat-Novel' on his own terms. I wouldn't suggest it as the first title to read to someone electrified after watching The Dark Knight Rises, but as is often the case with Morrison, it's superhero comics on a different level. 8/10

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

Matt C: In a sense, this penultimate issue of the monumentally awesome series Scalped has an air of predictability about it. Basically, if I were to summarise the contents, I'd describe it as a hail of bullets, but although it's not a surprise to see things pan out this way, it's by no means a disappointment because, simply put, there's absolutely no other way things could have come to a head in a truly satisfying manner. It's the main players (at least, the ones still breathing!) all congregating in the same place (and it's not hard to figure out what that place is) for a bloody standoff, and it's as exhilarating and gripping as you could hope for. Guerra pulls out all the stops for a tour de force of intensity, and that intensity is heightened by Brusco’s superb, electric colour choices. The concluding issue can't come quickly enough and, as much as I enjoy the likes of Wolverine And The X-Men, it's my fervent hope that Aaron doesn't stay out of the creator-owned end of the business for too long. 9/10

Writer: Brandon Graham
Art: Brandon Graham
Image $2.99

Matt C: Writer Brandon Graham takes on artistic duties for this issue and it’s another winner, reiterating just how essential this title has become in a few short months. This is science fiction on a grand, glorious scale that allows access to an expansive, alien universe, but also correctly limits its focus onto individuals to give readers an anchor to the plotline so they don’t get carried away by the more esoteric aspects of the narrative. But make no mistake, this is a slow-burner of a story – Graham isn’t in any hurry to lay all his cards on the table. Instead, he’s gradually teasing out the details as the picture of the environment John Prophet has found himself in, what his overall mission is, and what that means for the universe, becomes ever clearer. Although Graham has a distinctive illustrative style, it still fully segues into what’s come before and the ideas he drops in along the way are examples of supreme sci-fi ingenuity. Image are currently leading a wave of creator-owned brilliance in the comics market, and Prophet is one of the finest examples currently on offer. 8/10

Writer: Greg Hurwitz
Art: David Finch, Richard Friend & Sonia Oback
DC $2.99

Matt C: I’ve not really paid any attention to this title before now; Finch is a fine artist but I didn’t hear anyone convince me he had the chops as a writer, and to be honest Synder and Capullo’s Batman was doing everything so right that it just seemed like a completely superfluous series. Greg Hurwitz taking over the writing duties was enough to get me to give it a look. He’s not been a prolific writer of comics (he appears to concentrate more on his novels) but his arc on Punisher MAX entitled ‘Girls In Little White Dresses’ was one of the best non-Ennis tales featuring the character I’ve read. Unfortunately that didn’t stop this issue coming across as a by-the-numbers take on the Dark Knight. A slightly more twisted take to be sure, but somewhat predictable nevertheless. There’s no question about the talent of the guys involved but bar a couple of effective moments (the double-page credits scene, two characters quietly holding hands) there wasn’t anything I felt I hadn’t really seen before (and does there still need to be this endless riffing on The Killing Joke?!). If this was the only Batman book on the stands it would be fit for purpose, but it’s not, and my suspicions about it being a superfluous series are closer to being confirmed after reading this. 6/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Dave Stewart
Image $3.50
James R: Alright, I'll admit it - Ed Brubaker had me worried for a while. After setting such a searing quality standard with the early Criminal and Incognito stories, I'd felt that his neo-noir tales were losing their edge a little. With Fatale, there seemed to be an issue with the pacing as if Brubaker was trying to ram too much stuff into too few issues. However, at the back of issue #3, he wrote that he realised that he was going to need more space to tell his horror-crime epic and since then, the book has continued to improve, and with issue #6 (which represents the first chapter of book two) it's great to see that the creative team are firing on all cylinders. The narrative still follows Nick Lash as he investigates his uncle's mysterious past and the even more mysterious Josephine, but the second arc now focuses on Hollywood in the ‘70s. Brubaker has tapped into a rich vein of storytelling here, as this was an era where black magic and occultism haunted both the real world and the output of the studios. It's a perfect fit for this tale, and as always the incredible art team of Sean Phillips and Dave Stewart capture the mood of the era perfectly. As a comic, it absorbed me completely while reading it, and immediately made me dig out and re-read the first five issues. Dark brilliance from first page to last, and back to being one of the classiest comics on the racks. 9/10


Living Tribunal said...

Greetings. So are we close to the next "project" series or has it been permanently forgotten?

Matt Clark said...

The next "project" is being worked on but I want to have a lot of reviews in the bank, so to speak, as I'm barely keeping on top of the weekly reviews at the moment!

But it is coming, along with a few general changes.

More to follow.

Andy C said...

Intriguing comments...!

In response to the reviews, I picked up Fatale #6 and Hit-Girl #1 as I had a light week.

Fatale is excellent, even without any knowledge of what came before in #1-5. I will definitely give it a full arc.

Hit-Girl was good but impossible to judge this early - mostly set-up for what is to come....albeit well executed. Probably a bad choice of words....

I also returned to Dark Knight, having dropped this title after #6, enticed by the change of writer, having loved the Penguin mini-series. Your 6/10 pretty much covers it - Batman by numbers. The hand holding moment was simple but memorable and I'll probably pick up the next issue as a decider.