19 Aug 2012

Mini Reviews 19/08/2012


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.


BEFORE WATCHMEN: RORSCHACH #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Lee Bermejo & Barbara Ciardo
DC $3.99


Matt C: I would imagine this was the Before Watchmen title that ranked as the most anticipated for many – Rorschach is a fan-favourite character, possibly because his relentless drive in the original book is something familiar from a lot of prominent superheroes that have kept the industry alive for many, many years. The Azzarello/Bermejo combo appears faultless at first glance, as they both bring a sense of realism to a genre that sometimes eschews it, and considering the character, and the milieu he operates in, that’s exactly what you’d think was needed. And yeah, this debut issue works as a gritty crime/superhero mashup on some levels, but on others – and the ones that probably matter most – it doesn’t. Rorschach succeeds as a character in Watchmen because of his single-minded purpose – he will stop at nothing to do what (he thinks) needs to be done, and it’s his actions that propel the overall narrative. He works in this context because of the gradual reveal of his past and his resulting psychopathic tendencies. That fine as a one-off, but once you start digging into his other adventures you immediately run the risk of repetition, and the character gets diluted in the process. Rorschach only follows one clear, straight path without deviation. There’s not much you need to say there that won’t have been said already. So while this may be well-written and entertaining, it’s already coming across as derivative, albeit with some extraordinarily strong artwork from Bermejo (there’s no question now that the art on the entire project has been the real highlight). It’s only four issues so I’ll see it through, but everything I’ve seen so far indicates that there’ll be no surprises in store. 6/10

James R: The Before Watchmen project rolls out another #1 with Rorschach, featuring arguably the most beloved of all the Watchmen characters. As much as I like Azzarello (I love 100 Bullets and Spaceman has been consistently good) I don't think he's hit the groove on his Before Watchmen titles. Comedian started with a huge plot error, and has drifted into a book that has little to do with Watchmen. Rorschach is an improvement on that title, but there's something not quite right about it. It certainly isn't Lee Bermejo's art, which is superb and captures the ‘70s New York atmosphere really well. Azzarello also avoids the pitfall of wasting our time with a rehash of Rorschach's origin, correctly presupposing that anyone picking up this book may have read Watchmen before! He also demonstrates a better understanding of the character than Straczynski’s shown in Nite Owl but I feel that he hasn't quite got Walter Kovak's voice right; "Bitch to be you right now" doesn't sound like the same man who taunts Big Figure so adroitly in the original series. As a debut issue, I must say I enjoyed it, but once again I find myself thinking that if DC wanted to produce the best comics today, comics that can stand alongside the original, then  they're still coming up short. 6/10


PATHFINDER #1
Writer: Jim Zub
Art: Andrew Huerta & Ross Campbell
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99


Stewart R:  Tabletop RPGs have never managed to coax me into properly playing them, but I certainly find the whirling realms of fantasy or science-fiction that they are based upon to be intriguing and occasionally entertaining nonetheless.  I picked up Pathfinder purely based on seeing a sampling of the artwork in Previews a few months back and my immediate reaction to Huerta’s style was to note the resemblance to Joe Madureira’s work on the superb Battlechasers - there is also a definite nod to a certain BC villain that I spotted on my first read through.  Now a resemblance to a great title does not a good comic make so it’s lucky that Zub’s plot and scripting are up to the task; he sets the band of confident and well-travelled adventurers on an immediate quest to identify just what is causing local goblin tribes to become more aggressive and twisted than usual.  There’s already a keen sense of camaraderie between the protagonists and while obviously being set to certain typecasts there’s definitely a sense of well-roundedness to each character with subtleties woven through the dialogue that suggest we could see some decent character development as the story continues.  If the swords and sorcery genre is not generally to your liking I’m not sure that you’ll find anything here to necessarily change that aversion, however I found the whole 22 pages to be surprisingly engrossing and, in the best RPG fashion, there’s even some game-related pages in the back that, if nothing else, actually help to expand the vision of the locale and people seen in the main story.  An entertaining start.  8/10


AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #10
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Adam Kubert, John Dell, Laura Martin & Larry Molinar
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R:  We’re nearly there people, nearly through the weird jumble that is and has been Marvel’s 2012 Summer event, and I’m starting to want it to be over and done with.  Ed Brubaker takes his last turn with the writing baton and he puts in a stable effort that, despite evidently escalating things once more as Cyclops arrives in K’un Lun and attempts to wrest Hope back from the apparent safe hands of the Avengers, fails to really deliver anything particularly epic.  To be fair, I don’t think that perhaps Brubaker’s script has been helped by Kubert’s inability to make his contribution seem anything other than confined and claustrophobic once again and the lack of detail in the one or two wannabe-poster book moments gives this instalment an under-polished feel that won’t stand up to scrutiny when placed alongside Coipel’s earlier offerings during the series.  As an example of Cyclops’ vision for his people becoming gently twisted and obsessive thanks to the continued and strengthening corruption of such monumental power it’s not half bad, yet I can’t help feeling that there’s been one terrible oversight throughout all of this: the fact that the mutant species hasn’t really been saved during the Phoenix Five’s renaissance and it’s not really been made clear as to how such a feat would be achieved anyway despite Cyclops’ constant protestations that that is what he is doing.  With such a high-brow concept conveniently pushed to the side this has descended into a big, fat and rather stupid tug-of-war over Hope and descended once again into mediocrity with it.  We’ve a four week wait until #11 for some reason and I can only hope that it’s down to a sudden urge to rewrite things and show us a story with some actual interesting thought behind it, rather than just to add in another yet opportunity to show Thor getting a pummelling.  5/10


BUTCHER BAKER, THE RIGHTEOUS MAKER #8
Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Mike Huddleston
Image Comics $2.99


James R: Normally, the PCG don't have a lot of time when books are late. However, I'm willing to give Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston a lot of leeway here as a) it is the final issue of the series, and b) it is - like every issue before it - an exceptional comic. This series was an attempt by Joe Casey to put an adrenaline shot into the heart of the comics industry, and he’s succeeded magnificently. Butcher Baker's confrontation with, well, everybody (Jihad Jones, the Absolutely, Arnie B. Willard... and the US Military!) is almost secondary to the intense explosion of images and ideas here. Casey is a clever writer, and he demonstrates a deft meta-touch in his script, as Butcher Baker plays with our expectations of how resolutions and triumphs work in comics. As the series has gone on, I've been increasingly impressed with the work of Mike Huddleston - the moments when his art has suddenly shifted to a pastel palette have been breathtaking, and I'm amazed at the sheer variety of style and panel composition here. In a year where DC have decided to stripmine Watchmen in the hope of channelling some of its magic, I'd say that the series that shares some of the inventiveness, self-awareness and love of comics with Moore's masterpiece is Butcher Baker. Bravo to all involved, and if you missed out on this series, you absolutely have to pick it up in trade. 10/10

Stewart R:  I actually thought that this series had perhaps plunged into the mystical void that many Man of Action titles seem to go - see The Great Unknown and Bad Dog for those currently missing in action - and that we weren’t going to get the climax that we’d been waiting for in what had become a highly entertaining and always colourful comic.  Thankfully Casey and Huddleston have managed to break out that midnight oil and cleared schedules to make sure that BBTRM got its ending.  In the 10 months since #7 I’ll admit that I’d forgotten what had transpired, however a few pages of naked and brutal superhero/villain fisticuffs later and I was right back up to speed - it’s amazing how crazy shit like that can jog a memory and Huddleston’s visuals have been tremendous at capturing every mind-blowing second!  While I remember my attraction to this series being partly down to the chaotic and comedic antics that unwound page after page, Casey has reminded me in this finale that there was a deeper story here, revolving around a superhero, still awash in the light of his former glories, yet increasingly aware of time and ever-changing politics catching up with him and wiping that shine away.  Baker has been played as a straight-shooting, ask-questions-later kind of guy for the most part yet his constant admittance that he lacks a lot of understanding on how things work has been flipped around and thrown out sideways throughout to produce as canny and endearing a mutha-fucker as has ever graced a page of Image print.  Further kudos has to be sent Casey’s way for his apology over the delay sat in the back of the issue as it’s as honest an admission as you can get.  At the end of the day and end of the series all I can do is heartily recommend picking this up in the collected edition when it surfaces before the end of the year.  8/10


DAREDEVIL #17
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Michael Allred & Laura Allred
Marvel $2.99


Matt C: After the last couple of exceptional issues, this one feels like something of a placeholder. There was a lot of momentum building with Waid's plotlines, but when you get a flashback issue just when things are getting juicy, it's hard not to look at it as anything but filler. It probably doesn't help that I've never been particularly enamoured with Allred's artwork; I know he has passionate fan base, and there's no denying he has a distinctive talent, but his work often feels flat and inert to me. The story itself attempts to get some more mileage out of Matt's father, Battlin' Jack Murdock, but while it works on some emotional level, it feels half-finished by the end of the issue. This is still one of the best superhero titles currently on the stands, and I expect it will continue to be so, but this is definitely one of the lesser chapters. 6/10


SAGA #6
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Image $2.99


Stewart R: As Mr K. Vaughan states in the ‘To Be Continued’ letters page, this could well have been the point that we said goodbye to this science-fiction tale of family life in a time of interstellar war.  Hahahaha-HAH!  As if that was ever likely to happen when we were given such an engrossing and captivating start from him and the marvellous Staples, which just gets better and better as it prances merrily and bloodily along!  While not instantly wowed by the first chapter I’ve grown to look forward to this appearing in my pull-list and new elements such as rocketships made out of living wood and robot princes that use ‘bugger’ as an expletive just continue to sweeten the deal.  When compared to other regular comics in my pull-list there’s definitely a more steady pacing to Vaughan’s writing and though a fair amount has happened and been disclosed over the course of six issues it still feels to me that we’re only at the very beginning of a truly epic, star-spanning tale and sometimes - including my reading of this latest issue - I need to give this book a second read through just to prove to myself (successfully) that there was actually a lot more content to be found through the 22 pages than I had initially thought.  Here for example, there’s a brilliant level of depth to Alana and Marko’s despair, frustration and then relief as things take a swing, albeit temporarily, for the better and the concern that I have for a character’s well-being here is testament to an unmissable comic read.  The collected edition is out shortly and comes at a bargain price; I suggest that you climb aboard!  9/10

Matt C: This issue sees the completion of what will be the first volume of Saga in collected form, and with a couple of months to go before issue #7 appears (Vaughan states at the back of the book the delay is to allow Staples some catch-up time) it’s a good opportunity to assess how the series is progressing. After what I still consider to be the best debut issue of 2012, Saga has settled into a groove of infectious likeability, not quite reaching the dazzling heights of the first chapter but still impressing with its humour, creativity and astute, relatable characterisations. Even with all the sci-fi trappings this is a resolutely human tale, a familiar one in certain respects in that it features some star-crossed lovers on the lam. This could easily be a contemporary Earth-set story and you wouldn't see much alteration to the characters, and the soap opera dynamics at play reveal how much Vaughan's time working on Lost has affected the way he structures his narrative and presents his cast. But, while the nuts and bolts of the story are essentially familiar and recognizable, it's down to Staples to bring the weird, wonderful and otherworldly tone with some of the outlandish visual creations she conjures up with her pen and inks, although even then the facial expressions she employs (particularly the eyes) make those creations believable and sympathetic (with the exception of those individuals with TVs for heads!). If there's a problem it's one of pace, as it does feel that Saga is taking its time getting to its destination, and perhaps a few shortcuts could have been taken on the way. It's the kind of series that you sign up for the long run through, and even if it takes it time there's just too much brilliant stuff going on to ever consider skipping the journey. 7/10


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #691
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mario Del Pennino, Klaus Janson, Daniel Green & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R:  Damn good cover that...  and a damn fine issue it is too as Slott finishes off his ‘No Turning Back’ arc with some unexpected twists and turns.  In fact, I always seem to be surprised and impressed by Slott’s ability to throw plotline curve balls and I really shouldn’t be by now as it seems to be a part of his fine Spider-Man writing style - it’s testament to the man that I find it difficult to predict just when those unexpected moments will arrive.  Here he puts Peter right into a bizarre and precarious situation at Horizon Labs as he realises nearly too late that his colleagues have been left vulnerable in the presence of one of his most vicious enemies.  Slott has worked the dual thought narrative incredibly well during this arc with the reader being able to see the mental workings of both hero and villain in turn, and it’s been highly enjoyable as well as refreshing to see Peter come to the occasional wrong conclusion and appreciate what it feels like from the other perspective involved.  The action quotient is high once again and Camuncoli has worked wonders these past four issues delivering high velocity visuals truly worthy of one of Marvel’s preeminent titles. The celebrations appear to start properly next issue, but I’d say they already started with a story as good as any in that 50-year canon.  9/10


BATWOMAN #12
Writer: J. H. Williams & W. Haden Blackman
Art: J. H. Williams & Dave Stewart
DC $2.99


James R: Just when I thought I was out... J. H. Williams pulls me back in! I was very close to dropping Batwoman - not because it was a bad comic, but it was, well, okay. In the current climate where only a few of us can afford to pick up all the issues we'd like to, I felt Batwoman was a nice read, but I had expected a lot more from title. Suddenly, things have changed - J. H. Williams has returned to art duties and the story has gone up a notch with the introduction of Wonder Woman. The plot still centres around the supernatural and Kate Kane's search for Medusa, but William's juxtaposition between the lives of Wonder Woman and Batwoman is sublime. He is an artist in the truest sense of the word - and I'd read a phone book if was illustrating it. After a year, I'm a little wary at how long the Medusa plot has gone on for (especially seeing that Williams teased that the next arc was an espionage tale) but the sheer beauty of this title keeps it on my pull-list. 7/10


REVIVAL #2
Writer: Tim Seeley
Art: Mike Norton & Mark Englert
Image $2.99


Stewart R:  Well, this is certainly shaping up to be a series filled with plenty of mystery and bulging with character at its heart!  Two issues in and the reasons behind the strange phenomena of revivals occurring in the quarantined Wisconsin town are still nowhere in sight and Seeley’s focus is set firmly upon the Cypress family and how their lives are being (or have been?) affected by the unnatural happenings.  I’m loving Seeley’s decision to keep the ‘event’ out of this book for the moment and concentrate on those affected as it’s clear that his handling of this family dynamic and the strain creaking under the surface is spot on.  The somewhat humorous and purely ‘coincidental’ get together between Dana and the Doctor is played out well enough and adds a further layer of stress to the struggling officer’s already crazy life.  Norton’s art is bang on the money once again and it’s his keen hand that really helps to enhance those creepier moments that pop out of the page every now and then, especially when it comes to Dana’s sister Martha.  The number of top-notch titles that Image keep sending the readers’ way is almost rude presently, but it has to be said that Revival is deserving of sitting amongst their number.  8/10


SNARKED #11
Writer: Roger Langridge
Art: Roger Langridge
BOOM! Studios $3.99


Matt C: This delightful series reaches its penultimate instalment with the same high standard of oddball wit and surreal invention that's been its trademark since the first issue.  Although the King has now been located, our band of heroes haven't exactly rescued him as they've now found themselves trapped alongside him on Snark Island, looking for a way to escape, perhaps with some of the fabled creature's treasure in tow. Wilburforce J. Walrus has become more of an unlikely (and reluctant!) hero as the story's progressed, and the central double-act has shifted from him and Clyde McdDunk, to him and Scarlett, the savvy princess who's proved herself to be smarter than the rest of her colleagues put together. For an expat Kiwi, Langridge seems to have tapped directly into a rich vein of thoroughly British humour, not only through some often fiendishly clever wordplay but also a succession of effective visual gags. It's a joy to read Snarked as it's always guaranteed to leave you grinning like the Cheshire Cat by the final page of each chapter. 8/10

1 comment:

Chris said...

Decided to check Pathfinder #1 out, though I'd never played the tabletop game itself. Was certainly impressed with the comic, good recommendation.