12 Aug 2012

Mini Reviews 12/08/2012

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.

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe & Heather Breckel
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: IDW have quite the list of iconic properties lashed firmly to their belt these days and I wouldn’t say that Godzilla was one that necessarily stood out yelling ‘Buy Me! Buy Me!’ when previous titles involving one of Japan’s (literally) biggest exports hit the shelves over the past year or so.  However, when you drop an immensely talented writer/artist such as James Stokoe (Orc Stain, Wonton Soup) into the mix my ears and eyes will suddenly prick up with interest.  Stokoe opens his five-issue miniseries with two young Japanese Defence Force soldiers’ first interaction with the towering metropolis-smasher as he takes a destructive walk through the streets of 1950s Tokyo.  Within pages, Stokoe has already employed a plethora of different viewpoints to really emphasise the sense of scale upon which a character such as Godzilla works, as the tiny denizens of the victimised city run for their lives when faced with such a terrifyingly destructive force.  Honestly, I don’t believe that there are many comic book artists working out there today with such a natural flair for portraying the macro and micro so damn well, sometimes within a single panel, and in Godzilla: THCW I’d say that the delivery borders upon being deemed masterful.  It’s not just in the art stakes though that Stokoe comes up trumps - protagonists Ota and Kentaro are the two young tank operatives left with the unenviable yet incredibly brave task of diverting the behemoth’s attention and Stokoe fills their exchanges with a great mix of banter, bravado and fearful uncertainty that really helps to fuel the tension and keeps the reader rooting for them to succeed without hopefully getting squished in the process.  This is as good as a debut issue can get really, and with the 10/10 score that I bestow upon it I just hope that the series can maintain that high standard now!

Writer: Len Wein
Art: Jae Lee
DC $2.99

Matt C: Veidt makes his costumed debut in this sophomore issue, exhibiting how the skills he's amassed over the years make him the perfect crimefighter. The portentousness of the narration is beginning to grate now - I can't quite tell if Wein is purposefully making him Veidt sound like a pompous jackass (which would be the right way to go) or if that's just the style of writing he's employing here. Either way, Veidt - intentionally or otherwise - isn't coming across as particularly likeable, which is fine, but it's not entirely clear what Wein is trying to say by taking this approach as, perhaps like the central character himself, there’s barely a hint of emotion on display. Hopefully it will become more apparent as we move forward, and where the work of a lesser artist may have made me think the journey wasn't worth the time, fortunately Jae Lee is on hand to provide some frequently gobsmacking illustrations. To describe the delicate, exquisite composition of each panel as impressive would be a huge understatement. This is career best work, the kind of stuff that makes you  view a creator in a new light (although it's anyone's guess what the bondage pose on the cover has to do with anything, as there's no corresponding scene inside). Ozymandias is currently being propped up by Lee's imagery, and that's fine for now, but with four issues to go Wein is going to have to shift things up a gear if this series is going to be anything other than a set of pretty pictures. 7/10

James R: So far this has been the median book of Before Watchmen - not a patch on Minutemen but definitely better than Nite Owl! This second issue reinforces my thoughts on the tale of Adrian Veidt. This month, we see Veidt begin his career as Ozymandias, and to be fair it is a basic Batman tale. Veidt tracks down drugs baron, takes them out with martial arts know-how and smarts. Len Wein also doesn't give us any fresh insight or perspectives on Veidt - we're not told why he continues to be Ozymandias after gaining revenge, just that "It became clear to me that my city had a desperate need for my unique skill set". This seems at odds with Moore's Ozymandias whose crimefighting career was more about feeding his ego and his corporation than dispensing justice. Veidt is a man who looks at the bigger picture, and a man who feels little kinship with normal men - I would have liked to see just why he continued to get his hands dirty, rather that it just being a given. However, the weakness of the script is countered by the stunning work of Jae Lee. It's been said already, but this really is career-best stuff from him. His panel compositions and illustrations are truly beautiful creations, and June Chung's colours compliment them wonderfully. It's worth picking up just to see Jae Lee's magnificent work - it's just a shame he wasn't given a deeper or more original story to bring to life. 6/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Stegman & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Now Hickman is winding down before he completes his run on Fantastic Four (and FF) he's understandably focusing on one or two-part stories that deal with various aspects of plot lines he's introduced or other facets of the team that interest him. This issue's a little different in that it resolves a story thread left over from Mark Millar's tenure, and while it's nice to seem Hickman tidy up on his way out the door, so to speak, the fact that I didn't get on with Millar's take on the FF meant I wasn't all that bothered with the way things panned out here. Hickman's characterisation shines through and Stegman's ragged visuals give things an added grunginess but although Hickman's run in its entirety may well looked back on as one of the most memorable in recent times, this will be a forgettable part of that whole. 5/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R:  I enjoyed this arc and this finale that has all of the face-pounding, tech-happy type of crimefighting shenanigans that I like to see appear in a Bat-book.  As Terminus’ plan is unleashed upon the city, the caped crusaders fight back against the bizarre hordes of Batman ‘victims’  who have taken to their mission of tainting the symbol of Gotham’s greatest hero with unprecedented public violence.  I take this sort of action-packed story to be evidence of a writer having fun with a title and getting to deliver a guilty comic read that everybody enjoys once in a while, with less in the way of deep and thoughtful exposition and more in the way of frenetic excitement.  Some may argue that Terminus’ is never really explained - there’s no backstory or history lesson provided - but that for me just summed up the point that Tomasi was trying to make with this arc.  Certainly the villain’s presence amongst the pages of this series have been made highly memorable thanks to Gleason’s terrifically macabre pencils which have captured his cellular acceleration and degradation in particularly gruesome style.  I don’t expect this arc to be hoisted upon the lofty pedestal of Batman’s all-time finest adventures, but it was a solid and entertaining read for me nonetheless.  8/10

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

Matt C: Proving that the debut issue was no fluke, Sean Murphy keeps his futuristic tale of the Jesus clone project rolling along in an effortlessly enthralling manner. Where last time he was more concerned with setting things up and introducing the characters, now he gets an opportunity to delve deeper into those characters and start to reveal what makes them tick. The most prominent of these is J2's head of security, Thomas McKael - in the first issue we were saw him as a young Irish boy in the midst of tragedy before jumping ahead several decades to find him prowling around as an imposing, hard-as-nails badass. Now we start to learn more about what shaped him and watch as a conflict begins to develop with his employers. There's no sign of anything particularly punk rock as yet, and I do wonder how Murphy is going to get to his presumed destination in the next four issues, but when you’re dealing with a tale as compelling as this, illustrated to the level of enveloping detail on show here, you have to place your trust in the creator and sit back to enjoy the ride. 8/10

James R: This remarkable miniseries from Sean Murphy continues to up the ante. After a first issue that grabbed the attention, this second issue shows the characters starting to come to terms with the J2 project, and in the case of Gwen Fairling, the mother of the 'New Messiah', the strain is quickly beginning to show. We're also treated to a flashback to the past of Thomas McKael, and we learn the terrible price of faith in his life. McKael and Fairling break free from the J2 compound, and by the end of the issue, the book effortlessly takes on the feel of that most American of staples - the road movie. As this series develops I can see that there's a terrific parallel between the lives of McKael and baby Chris - both born into chaotic worlds and forced to embody somebody else's ideals. This symmetry gives the book an awesome pace that's a joy to read. Over the last few days, I was amazed by Murphy's comments on Twitter that firstly DC wanted the series to be six issues, and as such he was forced to cut parts out - surely a talent like Murphy's should be given the space and time to fully tell his story? - and secondly that the first three issues were drawn to be coloured, and he hoped it they still would be one day. I'm surprised, as the stark black and white pages have a stark power to them - I think it's a mark of Murphy's talent that they would work either way. Punk Rock Jesus is smart, engaging and (of course) a treat for the eyes. It's great to learn that Murphy’s writing talent is as good as his illustration. I know this phrase can be overused, but this book is an absolute must-read. 9/10

Writer: Andrew Osborne
Art: Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox & Peter Nguyen
Image $2.99

Stewart R:  I believe that I got to around the fourth issue of this series and started to have doubts as to whether I would continue to pick it up purely based on a slightly inconsistent release schedule and a plot with more threads than the Bayeux Tapestry.  Well, here we are eight issues later and I’ve ended up sticking with this convoluted crime series right to the end.  I could have inserted ‘bitter’ into that last sentence, but the truth of it is that this actually has wound up to be a pretty entertaining read with healthy doses of action, comedy and plot twists scattered throughout.  Every single issue has started off with a brief cast diagram explaining the most recent events and even they have not helped me to fully remember what everyone was up to over the course of the twisted story. However, the general gist has been easy enough to pick up each time and there’s part of me that is looking forward to going back and rereading all 12 issues to get the full picture in a more concentrated time frame.  This finale ties up many of the loose ends with a surprisingly liberal wash of humour as confrontations reach their climax and certain characters get opportunities to come out of this thing unscathed and on top.  On occasion Blue Estate has felt like it struggled with far too many elements - characters and creators being the biggest two - but the finished product has ended up with something far stronger than its few weaknesses.  7/10

Writer: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke, Sandu Florea & FCO Plascencia
DC $2.99

James R: I love issues like this. Many years ago, Matt C did a wonderful thing. As I was finding my way back into comics, he bought me a copy of Tangled Web #4, a Spider-Man one-shot issue by Greg Rucka entitled ‘Severance Package’ (If you have never read it, I urge you to track it down!) It focused on one of the Kingpin's lieutenants and the consequences of Spider-Man's disruption to his carefully made plans. It was remarkable as it took place in the margins of Spider-Man's world, and it was the first time I'd seen a story told like that in comics. This issue of Batman reminds me of that landmark issue, as we find out about Harper Row, a young woman who lives with her brother in a building scheduled for demolition as part of Bruce Wayne's rebuilding of Gotham. A chance encounter with the Batman starts her on a quest to track him down, and as you can guess, it's not going to be easy. If I was being hyper-critical, I would say that Harper's story has echoes of Tim Drake's origin as Robin, but as always with Scott Snyder, his characters feel real, and his take on Batman's world remains astounding. Becky Cloonan's art is a nice sorbet between the heavyweight work of Greg Capullo, but I was sad to see she didn't illustrate the whole issue. Andy Clarke's pencils are great, but it's quite a lurch after Cloonan's distinctive style. However, this doesn't distract from the overall quality of the issue. Now we just have to wait for the issue zero month to be out the way, and we've got Snyder unleashing the Joker - if his appearance in Snyder's Detective Comics run was anything to go by, Gotham is still the place to be in the DCU. 8/10

Matt C: Notable for a few things: the first standalone story of Snyder's run on the title so far, the first time Snyder has shared scripting duties on the book, and perhaps most excitingly, Becky Cloonan's most high profile gig yet in comics. It's a neat tale focusing on one Gothamite's life-changing encounter with the Caped Crusader, and Cloonan's indie credentials bring a lot to the table, giving the tale a much more down-to-earth felling that it may not have necessarily had otherwise. Snyder proves again that he can dexterously move between the different social strata of Gotham City and keep things illuminating and exciting. The problem with this issue is that from page 22 on Andy Clarke takes over the pencilling duties, and while he's no slouch in the artistic department, his style is significantly different from Cloonan's that it creates a tonal shift that's quite jarring. Essentially what we're getting is the backup feature team continuing and resolving the main story rather than doing their own thing. It's a very good one off, but if Cloonan had done the whole thing it would have been better. 8/10

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