29 Jul 2012

Mini Reviews 29/07/2012

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: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art: Riley Rossmo
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Another month and another apocalyptic, survive-the-mechanical-menaces comic book from Image - see Planetoid for the other one!  Yet Debris, from the Green Wake creative combo team that is Wiebe and Rossmo, feels distinctly different with less of an emphasis on the spaceships and powerful ray guns and more on the environmental message and the barebones logic of what it takes to survive as a species in a world that seems to have said your time is up.  Wiebe leads with a mentor/apprentice scenario that works well because it’s used primarily to highlight how dangerous the landscape has become and the skillset that protagonist Maya has at her disposal to just maybe be the saviour of her people. While Green Wake had a dark, intimate feel, this comes across in broader, epic strokes and really captures the imagination.  Rossmo’s art is certainly the cleanest that I’ve ever seen it and while he hinted at his potential to portray chaotic action sequences in Cowboy, Ninja, Viking, here he really excels himself and conjures up a world that’s bordering on beautiful despite its razor-edged lethality.  Wiebe even manages to drop in a spiritual mystery into the mix that has me asking many a question about the universe in which this story exists and goshdarnit confirms the rest of this series on my pull-list.  8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Julian Totino Tedesco & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This book has felt like it's been coasting for a few months now, trying to find its way back to the heights it reached during the 'Dark Angel Saga'. The Otherworld storyline didn't really energise, hampered by unsuitable art, but this current arc has been headed in the right direction, and with this issue it's finally back on brilliant form. Tales of alternate universes are a dime a dozen in the X-universe, but that doesn't necessarily stop them from enthralling, especially when they spin directly out of events in the characters' current lives. Remender seems to excel at taking his cast and plonking them in a different dimension, an alternate reality or a potential future, and it allows him to discover new layers of their personalities and speculate on where their current trajectories may lead them. You might think the Jerome Opena cover would have you pining for his interior artwork but Tedesco does a fine job of retaining the dark, edgy look that's this book's trademark, helped along by White's wonderfully muted colour palette. To put it simply, this is Uncanny X-Force back to its best. 8/10

James R: Rick Remender's twisted and wild take on X-Force continues at pace this month, delivering an issue that builds wonderfully on his first arc on the title. In 'The Apocalypse Solution', X-Force were pushed to the limit by an ethical dilemma - should they kill the boy who would go on to become Apocalypse? Remender did a brilliant job in that arc (and was instrumental in getting me, a previous X-naysayer, into his characters.) and rather than letting the idea go, its ramifications have echoed on, resurfacing in this arc - 'Final Execution' - as X-Force flee into the future, only to find a dystopia where criminals are killed pre-emptively, inspired by X-Force's strategy toward the boy Apocalypse. As usual with Remender, things move at an electrifying pace, but this is beautifully balanced with intelligence and great character development. This is a book that continually rewards the loyal reader, and it's a hallmark of how I was really impressed by the art team of Tedesco and White, with Tedesco's pencils handling the action and the drama well, and White's colours giving the title an appositely dark and gritty feel. Remender ends on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger too, and that guarantees Uncanny X-Force a place on top of my pull-list again next month.    8/10

Stewart R:  While the rest of the X-universe seems to be far too busy dealing with the Phoenix problem in the many Avengers Vs X-Men crossovers, it’s really refreshing to see that Remeder has been able to remain clear of that carnage and continue to focus on his confused, conflicted team of proactive killers.  Here he gets stuck right into the heart of X-Force’s mandate by flashing them forward to a future where their ethos has been employed to the save the world, and yet in the same stroke crafted a place that none of them would want to be a part of.  Despite teasing us with the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants last time out, Remender elects to once again keep the cast tight and use the focussed view to demonstrate how individuals so different in their quirks, perspectives and loyalties can still function almost as a family with ‘good’ at the heart of their drive, despite its lethal tendencies and the necessity to make the hard choices on an all too regular basis.  I wasn’t quite sure how Todesco’s skills would translate to the handling of this black ops, mutant superhero title having only really seen him work on BOOM! Studios’ Unthinkable, however he’s easily proven himself capable of handling the X-Force art duties, maintaining that terrific sense of aesthetic continuity that has been a highlight throughout the run.  There’s an earthy, brooding feel given off by his pencils and inks that’s drummed home with the odd moment of percussive violence.  To be honest, in the absence of Jerome Opena, I’d quite happily see Tedesco come on to this title in a more permanent capacity - I’ve been that impressed here.  Let’s face it, when it comes to X-Force, Remender and his artistic colleagues have an uncanny knack of making this the regular contender for best X-book on the shelves.  8/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: J.G. Jones & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

James R: I can see what Brian Azzarello is trying to do with this series. As the action shifts to Vietnam, and the early days of the war, I was reminded of crime writer James Ellory's Underworld USA trilogy. Ellroy wrote these books as a secret history of the USA, highlighting the entwined worlds of the CIA, politics and drugs, and it seems to me that Brian Azzarello's Eddie Blake would have sat well in this murky underworld, but sadly I don't think Alan Moore's Comedian would. A couple of weeks back the gentlemen of the PCG got into a nicely heated exchange into just how faithful Azzarello's Comedian was to the original, and the room was fairly split. I was happy to give the prequel the benefit of the doubt, but after this second issue, it just feels like an awkward fit. Given his spectacular 100 Bullets I'd love to see Azarello taking on a series that examined the drug trade in the 20th century, but this certainly isn't the place for it. I don't feel his script has captured the nihilism that's intrinsic to Edward Blake's character, and despite J. G. Jones' handsome art, the book feels lacking in intrigue and magic. Earlier this week, Dave Gibbons rightfully said that he didn't see Before Watchmen as canon, but one thing you'd hope for these miniseries is that their faithful to the original. Two issues in, and Comedian not only fails to be faithful, but also lacks any real dramatic punch. Sad to say, but this is certainly no laughing matter.  3/10

Matt C: A few (fairly major) niggles last month prevented me from proclaiming Comedian as the best of the Before Watchmen books so far. What a difference a month can make! Last time I didn’t have a problem with Edward Blake fraternizing with the Kennedys, but wasn’t comfortable with the way it seemed to contradict what Ozymandias said in the original Watchmen about Blake acting as a bodyguard for Richard Nixon at the time of JFK’s death. I assumed that would get cleared up, but no such luck in this issue. Azzarello uses the chapter to tackle the Vietnam War, and while it’s not exactly Oliver Stone at full throttle, the writer does have some decent observations to make about the conflict, but the result of this is that Blake almost becomes a parody of himself, a cardboard cutout of a character that exudes no real depth whatsoever. His companions on the battlefield barely make a dent as they’re rather generic, and while Azzarello is obviously striving to say something ‘important’ and Jones’ art looks very accomplished, this didn’t make anywhere near the impact the last issue did, and already looks like it’s taken a turn for the worse. 5/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson, Daniel Green & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R:  Okay, so the timing of a Lizard storyline has pointedly and unreservedly been drummed up to coincide with the release of the live action Amazing Spider-Man movie, but when Dan Slott is the scribe then there’s far more than a 50% chance that’ll it’ll be a worthwhile read.  The Spider-Man writer extraordinaire has dealt with Dr Connor’s reversion to human form in an incredibly entertaining and well thought out manner and, by separating the seams of body and mind so starkly, he’s kept the tension bubbling at near unbearable levels.  Zeb Wells opened up the brilliant can of worms that was the potential death of Curt Connors back in his ‘Shed’ storyline and while I can see that perhaps Slott is looking longterm to once again redress the balance, he’s handling this tale in such a measured and thoughtful way that it has me doubting he’ll provide an ending that I could ever possibly predict. The Lizard’s growing appreciation for the mammalian experience is a terrific twist in the ‘tail’ that I certainly hadn’t foreseen and by adding the further unpredictability of an ill-timed Madame Web fortune-telling means that the gloriously painful world of Peter Parker is once again an unmissable prospect.  9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Michael Lark, Brian Thies, Stefano Gaudiano, Bettie Breitweiser & Mitch Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Brubaker has been doing his superhero/espionage/noir thing for so many years now you might think it’s started to get a little stale. To be fair, the recent volume of Captain America felt like the wheels were spinning, but that was positioning itself more squarely in straight-up superheroics territory, moving away to what once made it the best Marvel book on the stands. Winter Solider sees the writer getting his mojo back in this arena again, and the news that this will be his major focus outside of his creator-owned work is definitely a good thing as it’s been getting progressively more assured as it’s gone along. The tone of the book means that Bucky can get down and dirty a lot more than when he was wearing the star-spangled uniform,  and in the hands of Lark the fight scenes are expertly choreographed and thrilling. How long Brubaker will rely on digging up ghosts of the past to feed plotlines remains to be seen, but he clearly loves the character (not surprising after he did the impossible by resurrecting him so brilliantly) so it’s likely that wherever he takes him, he’ll have no problem making it compelling enough for us to keep following. 8/10

Writer: Mark Sable
Art: Paul Azaceta & Mat Wilson
Image $2.99

Stewart R:  There’s no doubting that there’s huge potential in Sable’s tale of zombie survival in a hostile Afghanistan environment (and I dare say that I can actually picture this ending up within the churning gears of the Hollywood engine at some stage) but as the series draws to a close I can’t help but think that as a comic book read it suffered badly at the hands of two inherent problems. Firstly, Sable and Azaceta as a team managed to make too few of the characters stand out and as such when the chomping, biting and zombie-revivals occurred it was hard to tell who had bought the farm and whether I really cared. Secondly, and as emphasised by the Sable commentary in the back of the book, there was definitely an issue with pacing and the length. While Sable states that it was originally planned for three issues and spread to four, I really did feel that everything was just rushed through far too much during this final issue and that an additional issue could have been employed to help flesh out the many questions that arose and possibly provide the dwindling cast with a touch more substance.  There are positives to the finale though, particularly in the flashbacks to the past encounters with the risen dead that really do emphasise the ‘Empires’ of the title, and while Azaceta’s depiction of the cast has provided problems he’s still managed to employ a dark and foreboding aesthetic that has certainly made this series stand out from the crowd.  Delays and potential creative uncertainly have definitely left Graveyard Of Empires sitting in the ‘Good/Mediocre’ pile in this reviewers opinion and it’s a shame that it didn’t get to end as strongly as it had started.  5/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Jorge Molina, Norman Lee & Morry Hollowell
Marvel $3.99

James R: Following on from last issue's astonishing Warbird story, Jason Aaron continues to be inspired - rather than constricte - by AVX. This issue sees Colossus call in on Kitty Pryde in order to win back her love. Firstly, it's great to see Aaron highlighting the plot that seemed to rejuvenate AVX - the idea of the Phoenix Five attempting to remake the Earth as Utopia X. In the main title this seems to have been sadly ignored for a return to punch-ups, but here Aaron uses Piotr and Kitty's date to show that the gift of omnipotence is also a curse - limitless power is always accompanied by an erosion of humanity. Aaron doesn't neglect keeping us up to speed with the events at the Jean Grey School, and Kitty’s attempts to keep it running give the book real heart. I'm always impressed with how the writer treats his secondary cast - both Toad and Deathlok continue to bring levity to the proceedings and, as an overall package, it continues to be a great mixture invention, action, humour and heart. The art from Jorge Molina isn't quite up to the heights that Nick Bradshaw and Chris Bachalo bring to the book, but it's certainly fine work, and I'm looking forward to him carrying on next issue. Whereas I'm sad that Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men will soon be no more, I'm delighted that this title is powering on, and hopefully continuing to go from strength to strength. 8/10


Andy C said...

Couldn't agree more with your praise for Winter Soldier. The first arc was really good, but there is a definite further improvement with this second arc. So far #6, 7 and 8 have been slick, exciting and brilliantly executed and there's no reason to think that will change anytime soon. Personally I feel the title benefits by not having machine gun wielding gorillas!

I also picked up Daredevil #15 this week as a result of your unanimous recommendation from last week's reviews. Fantastic issue full of suspense and written with total confidence. Consider me onboard!

Haven't got round to reading Uncanny X-Force yet........

Matt Clark said...

A quick correction...

We've been advised (by the man himself) that Dean White was responsible for the excellent colouring in Uncanny X-Force, not Justin Ponsor as listed in the credits, so we've updated accordingly.

Credit where credit's due!