5 Aug 2012

Mini Reviews 05/08/2012


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.


HAWKEYE #1
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99


Matt C: He’s never been able to sustain a series of his own before, so the question really has to be: does the world really need a new Hawkeye book? There’s no question that he works well as part of a team, but is he strong enough to sustain a series all on his own? On the evidence of this debut issue, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Unlike the majority of his Avengers teammates, Clint Barton doesn’t have superpowers, just a vast array of souped-up arrows and a knack for hitting his target every time. That means he lends himself well to smaller scale, more intimate adventures, and it quickly becomes clear that Fraction is very comfortable in this environment – he handles the street level shenanigans with a stylish realism, and it brings  to mind his work (with Ed Brubaker) on the rather awesome initial run of Immortal Iron Fist. That series was where Fraction first hooked up with David Aja, and it’s great to see them back to together, as Aja’s crisp, urban-tinged compositions marry up perfectly with Fraction’s script. I’m also reminded of Waid’s Daredevil here – the writers approach their protagonists from different angles, but they conjure up a similar vibe, which is another way of saying if you like Daredevil, you might just like Hawkeye quite a bit too. It's highly probable that this is the start of something very special. 8/10


HARVEST #1
Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Art: Colin Lorimer
Image $3.50


Stewart R:  Well, there’s not a shred of hope or optimism to be found within the scripted events of A.J. Lieberman’s new medical thriller and boy does that make for an engrossing read, from the dark opening sequence which shows us a grim situation from some future point in this tale, to the retelling of surgeon Ben Dane’s rather swift fall from a bleary, unhappy world of comfort to one where he’s almost wishing someone would put him out of his misery.  The protagonist’s seeming lack of interest in his own wellbeing doesn’t necessarily make this reader sympathetic to his situation rather than interested in finding out whether it’s more front than truth or just how bad this scenario might get.  The art from Lorimer is a perfect fit for this bleak material with a keen use of heavy inking where required - reminding me a little of Mick Gray’s work on Batman And Robin in places - and a great ability to deliver so much with just the look in a character’s eye.  This is yet another strong opener flying out of the doors of the Image publishing house and I’m excited about seeing where Lieberman and Lorimer take us next; my money is on it being an even darker place!  8/10

Matt C: This is the kind of concept that could be ripe for TV adaptation if it wasn’t so near the knuckle – a look into the murky world of organ trafficking is probably a little too much for some folks! Fortunately us comic book readers are generally made of sterner stuff (see Garth Ennis’ Crossed, for example). Harvest is at turns sleazy and sordid, but it has a firm grip that makes it a compulsive read. Basically, we follow surgeon Benjamin Dane on a downward spiral of drink and drugs towards a hopeless career in black market operations for human organs, with the ghosts of his past failures snapping at his heels. Lieberman’s script revels in the character’s descent, and along with Lorimer’s moody, bloody art, it’s appeal may not be widespread, but for those of us prepared to venture into this world, Harvest could ultimately prove to be a rewarding (if uncomfortable) experience. 7/10


AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #9
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Adam Kubert, John Dell, Laura Martin & Larry Molinar
Marvel £3.99


Matt C: Okay, so maybe the Marvel ‘Architects’ came up with the story for this book together, but I’m now utterly convinced they should have handed over scripting duties to Aaron and Hickman rather than passing it between five different writers, because it’s clearly a far better book when either of the aforementioned two take charge. This issue is focused, tight and has a better handle on the multitude of characters than most of the previous instalments, although it probably helps that Aaron brings Spider-Man front and centre rather than have too many other individuals vying for attention. It’s pretty much applying the old adage of “absolute power corrupts absolutely” to the superhero model, and in amongst the brawling (which is far more engaging and emotional than the last issue) there’s a decent grasp on how to show these newly omnipotent beings barely noticing their humanity evaporating. It’s a vast improvement over issue #8 to the point where even Kubert’s work seems noticeably more assured and dramatic. Overall this series has been erratic in terms of quality but when you get an issue like this it pretty much justifies the perseverance. 8/10

Stewart R: Nine issues of this series have now been delivered and I am still here.  We’re three quarters of the way through this story however and I’m still looking back to only one single issue where I got what I truly wanted from the annual Marvel tent-pole event - see #6 for that particular pleasure.  Jason Aaron has been doing a fine job of tying his Wolverine & The X-Men title into this event with well measured and entertaining character pieces, but for some reason his application of a similar tack here in the main book seems a touch out of place.  Don’t get me wrong, utilising Spider-Man to exemplify just why we love the Avengers and to highlight just how much the Phoenix Force is beginning to corrupt its hosts is a pretty decent idea, it’s just that for some reason this feels far too close and intimate for a story that is supposed to be brimming with catastrophe and covering such a large part of Marvel’s universe.  I don’t believe that Kubert’s art particularly helps in this respect as his framing and panel choice keeps the scope fairly close and constricted despite being of a reasonable quality . Aaron definitely has a good feel for Peter Parker and his experiences within a superhero team where he’s struggled to find his place in the past and it’s good to see one of my favourite heroes portrayed well in an event title.  The brief interchange between Emma and Cyclops is also an interesting moment which has me wishing that the effect of this huge power upon these five individuals had been looked at under a keener microscope before now.  A decent enough issue as it stands, but it certainly doesn’t help with the inconsistency problems plaguing this event.  7/10


THINK TANK #1
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99


James R: I like to think the PCG are champions (and advocates) of new titles. Whilst compiling our Ten Forward piece a couple of months back, I recall this was a book that made all of us take note. Think Tank focuses on David Loren, a character some have equated to Tony Stark (genius inventor for military has change of heart) but he is also reminiscent of Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting - a prodigy at odds with the world around him, a 'lazy overachiever" who decides that he no longer wants to use his genius to create weapons for the US Military's DARPA. There's much to commend here. As Hawkins himself says in the backmatter of this book 'I want people to like science' and the issue is packed with real science detail - it's hugely refreshing to read a book that wants to try something different. However, it's not a total smash - I wasn't entirely convinced by Loren's change of heart, which seems to have happened a little too suddenly and quite late in the day for such an intellect. The second part of the book sees Loren and his sidekick Dr. Pavi testing out a thought-reader in way which felt unbelievably teenage. I know some will argue that certain research scientists will have the emotional intelligence of teenager, but I felt it was an awkward turn in the plot. However, Hawkins and Ekedal do more than enough to show this is a book with potential, and any book that comes with a promise to make you smarter can only be a good thing.  7/10

Stewart R: I haven’t seen a Top Cow title arrive on my pull-list for a good while, but from the looks of this debut there’s going to be another issue guaranteed next month for sure.  David Loren is the character creation of Hawkins and Ekedal and is that perfect blend of unprecedented genius and keen slacker that you can’t help but root for when they turn up in fiction.  Hawkins imbues David with that roguish charm of the guy who always just manages to do enough to keep the real heat at bay when pissing off the authorities, and who occasionally lets his ethical dilemmas leak to the surface.  Ekedal’s art has the cheeky, arrogant grin quotient set reasonably high through this opener that actually makes those moments of doubt and inner turmoil all the more important when they arrive.  The choice to keep this a black and white book (well, maybe grayscale) appears to have been the right decision as it threads a clean and fresh quality through the pages from beginning to end.  While it could be said that there doesn’t appear to be an obvious plot at this stage I don’t doubt that one will turn up next time out and to be honest the character work is of such a high standard here (along with the odd touch of humour) that I certainly wasn’t left wishing for one when turning the final page of this #1.  8/10

Matt C: David Loren is a supergenius inventor employed by the government to turn ideas into reality, ideas that could change the world for the better but are more than likely going to be co-opted by the military and weaponised. David is also something of a slacker, prone to distraction, and plagued by a conscience that wants to remind him that his inventions have led to people losing their lives. Think Tony Stark without the billions and you’re in the right ballpark. His questionable work ethic doesn't win him any friends amongst his colleagues and with a new Colonel breathing down his neck looking for results it seems like David needs to get his act together. Unfortunately, as he's someone less than willing to play by the rules, it's never going to be a simple as that. Bad news for David, good news for us readers, because this is an immensely entertaining debut issue that mixes intelligence and wit to superb effect. Hawkins' smart, knowledgeable script does a sound job of creating a believable environment, and this ties up nicely with Ekedal's solid, alluring visuals that were immersive to the point where I barely registered the interior art was black and white. "Reading this book will make you smarter." is an ambitious claim that may be hard to back up, but rarely has the world of bleeding edge science seemed this much fun. 8/10


SWAMP THING #12
Writer: Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire
Art: Marco Rudy, Dan Green, Andy Owens & Val Staples
DC $2.99


James R: At last! A week when I don't have to choose between Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder as - Elder Gods be praised - 'Rotworld' begins and we're treated to two of the finest writers in comics teaming up to deliver the goods. 'Rotworld' has been promised and teased since the very beginning of the New 52; Scott Snyder's tales of the Green here dovetailed beautifully with Lemire's story featuring the Red in Animal Man. This month sees the two writers sharing script duties on both books as the two protagonists join forces to battle the Rot, the element of decay and destruction which is essential to life but has grown far too powerful. I can well understand why this book is not for everyone - it's dark and twisted, a Vertigo book in all but name, but for me this is exactly what I want to see. The two writers play to their great strengths - Snyder's plotting and Lemire's emotion are front and centre here, and Marco Rudy's pencils do a fine job of conveying the almost psychedelic horror. One of the things I'm never too fond of in 'event' books is their horribly sprawling nature - the Big Two like to wring every cent from our fanboy wallets - but I love that this event is just shared between the two books. Given their current release schedule, it's like reading a giant-sized issue every month, and as a loud and proud supporter of both these writers, that's a total treat for me. I think I'm going to enjoy every minute of the rot setting in! 9/10


DAREDEVIL #16
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $2.99


Matt C: There were a few months earlier in the year where Daredevil wasn’t quite reaching the standard it set when it relaunched with Waid in charge just over a year ago. Don’t get me wrong, it was still very good, but it wasn’t as good as it had been. It’s a relief then to see it’s shuffled its way back to the front of the pack again during the last couple of issues, and once more I find myself floored by how Waid can find ways to make this character – one that’s been having monthly adventures for nearly 50 years so – such a fascinating, surprising creation. Ostensibly this issue is more focused on Hank Pym as he attempts to rid Murdock’s mind of the Doom’s invading nanobots from the inside, but Waid still manages to bring so much of Matt Murdock onto every page by highlighting the emotional connectivity between the two, before leading up to a cliffhanger that suggests maybe the Man Without Fear has quite moved beyond those dark, depressing days that plagued him for so long. Samnee makes sure his glossy, exuberant art is full of emotion, and it bursts out of the panels with the aid of Rodriguez’ bright, brilliant colours. There’s not a bum note in this issue - it’s perfect. 10/10


BEFORE WATCHMEN: NITE OWL #2
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert & Brad Anderson
DC $3.99


James R: Have you ever heard of Justin Schmidt? He’s a man who has undertaken a remarkable quest: an entomologist who’s allowed himself to be bitten by 147 insects in order to catalogue the pain inflicted by their stings. In some ways, he's crazy, but in others Schmidt is a hero of science. He's going through all this so we don't have to. He's trying to satisfy man's insatiable quest for knowledge. That brings us to Nite Owl, and dear readers, I wish to put myself forward as the Justin Schmidt of the PCG - I'm reading this horrorshow so you don't have to! After last month's shockingly bad first issue, Straczynski just keeps on bringing the pain. What he does is take snippets, or a couple of panels, from the original Watchmen, and then stretches them out amidst a tale bereft of imagination or entertainment. Here it's Nite Owl's relationship with the Twilight Lady - an S&M prostitute. Straczynski imagines that Drieberg's fixation with her is tied to his abusive childhood - both at the hands of his father and his school bullies. The second plot is Rorschach and his obsession with the murder of Kitty Genovese, and Straczynski uses this to dip into Rorschach's motivations, but as with the first issue, this is ground covered far more expertly by Alan Moore in the original. The problem here is that these titles were fanfared as the world's finest comics talent bringing us a new slant on a rightfully venerated classic. This book fails in that goal, merely repacking and diluting the original. I'll keep taking the stings for you, but trust me, this is horrible.  2/10

3 comments:

Andy C said...

Loving the reviews as ever, and thanks James for your personal sacrifice with Nite Owl! Not reading any 'Before Watchmen' myself, purley down to a total lack of interest - not really getting the point of the whole exercise.

I picked up Daredevil, Swamp Thing and Harvest from your list. Haven't got round to reading Swamp Thing yet.

Personally I didn't find Daredevil #16 as strong as #15. It was still a decent read, which improved towards the end, and the "emotional connectivity" Matt refers to just about saved it for me as it was feeling a bit 'Inner Space' otherwise!

I loved Harvest #1, and would have given that the 10/10 rather than Daredevil. Image are really delivering at the moment, and with Saga, Secret, Fatale, Planetoid, Revival and now Harvest, they are gradually nudging the big two for supremacy on my list.

Andy C said...

Have now read Animal Man and Swamp Thing #12. Fantastic start to the appallingly named 'Rotworld'. Well deserved 9/10 as reviewed by the PCG.

Another great week of releases. Surely we are due a crap one soon?!

Matt C said...

Let's hope not! Let's keep the positivity going! These comic book things are too damn expensive to think otherwise! :)