26 Aug 2012

Mini Reviews 26/08/2012

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: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Adam Hughes & Laura Martin
DC $3.99

James R: I'll get the good stuff out the way first - this book looks beautiful. I'm a big fan of Adam Hughes and I think he's been responsible for some of the finest covers in comics over the past decade, so it's a joy to see him illustrating a whole issue. He certainly doesn't disappoint on  - as with Jae Lee on Ozymandias and Amanda Connor on Silk Spectre, he looks to be turning in the best work of his career here, ably assisted by Laura Martin's colours. However, *deep breath* the script? Once again, I'm left wondering if Straczynski has the same copy of Watchmen as me as he portrays these characters in a vastly different way to the original. Whereas his Nite Owl and Rorschach are just badly rendered, here he ignores one of the core components of Dr. Manhattan's worldview and character. He advocates that Manhattan can manipulate the world at a quantum level: "It's all a matter of perspective. And perspectives can be changed with the slightest nudge." Straczynski uses this a plot device, so Dr. Manhattan can 'go back' to before his creation and see what would have happened if Jon Osterman had not been trapped in the test chamber and transformed. I see why he's done it, but in doing so he ignores that in the original series, Dr. Manhattan is a character who exists in a strongly deterministic universe - things cannot be anything other than they are! This paradigm stood as a counterpoint to Rorschach's view that the world was random and chaotic, and this served as one of the many amazing layers to the original. Again, I'm left feeling that this is a mini that has no real association with the series that I love. I'm sure that Straczynski had the best intentions when coming up with a worthy plot line for Dr. Manhattan, but we all know what paves the road to hell - and the back issue boxes of tomorrow. 4/10

Matt C: It’s a damn sight better than Nite Owl, that’s for sure. After Straczynski’s scripting of that book I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this one, but this is a far more arresting take on one of the iconic characters from Moore and Gibbon’s original series. The writer isn’t strictly telling us anything new about this world’s only real superhuman, but it’s the angle he chooses to take that keeps it engaging, as Manhattan ponders why, when considering that the infinite quantum possibilities in the universe preclude the chance of there ever being a true accident, an event occurred to cause him to come into being. It’s a good hook and Stracynski runs with it, essentially asking the age old question “Why am I here?”, and it suggests he’s far more comfortable with this character than he is with Nite Owl. And then there’s the art. Hughes has been a cover artist only for far too long, and his magnetic, seductive illustrations, given a gorgeous makeover by Martin’s colours, are another indication that the whole Before Watchmen project is somewhere where artists have generally shone brighter than writers. As always, it depends on where Straczynski takes the story next, but at the very least, this one’s promising. 7/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera & Guila Brusco
DC $2.99

Matt C: He didn’t drop the ball. Thank God. It ends in some ways that are expected, and others that aren’t. Certain characters die (and c’mon – if you know this series, you know that’s not a spoiler!) but there is this glimmer of hope that has always flickered in the background since the first issue, sometimes that wasn’t always easy to see, but it was there throughout. At points, this final chapter feels like it’s a requiem, not only for those lost along the way, but for the series as a whole. There’s a rough eloquence to the dialogue, the narration, that’s at turns both violent and meditative, mirroring everything we’ve seen that lead us to this point. Guera’s detailed linework and Brusco’s incendiary colours capture some visual poetry in amongst the brutality, and Jock’s covers have always proved to be striking, nailing the tone of what’s held amongst the pages with a single image. I’d be hard pressed to think of many other comics in the last decade that’s been so consistently astonishing. A genuine classic of the medium, and while we’re poorer for its loss, the fact that such an uncompromising series delivered the goods in its entirety is something we should be eternally grateful for. 10/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: MIND MGMT has definitely been one of the surprise packages of the year. Based on his excellent work on Revolver and Super Spy it was clear that Matt Kindt was a creator of considerable talent, but with this series he has upped his game again. After the breathless cat and mouse chase of the first three issues, Kindt gives us our first real glimpse into how the shadowy MIND MGMT agency operates. This issue features the backstory of the elusive Henry Lyme (a nice nod the The Third Man's Harry Lyme?) and he tells Meru of how he came to be part of the organisation, which selects and trains children to truly embody the maxim of 'mind over matter'. Kindt's storytelling is superb here, and he packs his 24 pages with more content and ideas than many mainstream titles manage in six. Secret societies and nefarious organisations are hardly new ideas, but Kindt brings a vitality to his story that is irresistible. This was one of those rare but hugely gratifying reads that consumed me from first page to last, and that is always my gold standard for a comic. Once again, I'm loving the extra stories and bonus content that are squeezed onto the covers and margins of the title, and it all adds up to a book that is peerless in the current comics market. If Kindt can keep this quality up, MIND MGMT will easily take my vote for book of the year. Extraordinary in every way. 10/10

Stewart R:  This, for me, is Kindt showing an intent to up his game and bring a real emotional edge to this tale of secretive mental manipulation and black ops government projects. Henry Lyme had remained an enigma of sorts before now and I did wonder if he would just end up being the near-mythical goal for Meru to potentially locate in the very last chapter, but it’s now clear that Kindt intends for him to play a far larger role in the story with this intriguing and incredibly well written introduction.  We are shown the history that Lyme has with the MIND MGMT project and just what sort of operative he was, or still is, while also getting a glimpse into the darker elements that operated alongside this mysterious individual including the ever-threatening Immortals.  From his 3 Storey: The Secret History Of The Giant Man it was already apparent that Kindt is completely at home when building and writing detailed backstories for his creations and the engrossing events that unfurl over the course of 19 pages add so add so much to the overall picture of what this world is all about and what sort of cloth a man like Lyme is cut from.  A terrific read in what has proved to be a strong story so far and the crazy thing is I still get the feeling that Kindt has even more to give, if that’s even possible!  9/10

Writer: Ken Garing
Art: Ken Garing
Image $2.99

Stewart R: 2012 is turning into a year of stupendous covers and I have to say that what Ken Garing has produced this month is contender for my favourite to date.  It’s fitting as the series Planetoid is also in the running for my favourite series of the year and that status has been cemented with the best chapter of the lot so far.  Garing takes the majority of the page count this month and utilises it to show the effect that Silas’ arrival has upon the small community of survivors and how in a short space of time the reluctant leader turns around the fortunes of the people who until now had struggled and scrapped to eke out an existence on the desolate world.  I love this sort of survivalist tale where everyone pools their knowledge and resources and Garing has a really good grip on the pacing as he details the development of the encampment over the course of several weeks. His simple, ‘no frills’ art style is perfectly suited for capturing this passage of time and there are some really well thought out panels that work tremendously in their simple subtlety. The tension remains bubbling under the surface as occasional reminders of the Ono Mao threat are scattered throughout and the way things are left act as a reminder that on such a deadly planet things are likely to stay sunny and positive for too long.  An issue of a highly promising comic that I really can’t find any real fault with at all; superb stuff.  10/10

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

James R: It was great to see this issue on the solicitations this week - DC pulled it after the appalling events in Aurora last month, and whereas that was undoubtedly the right thing to do, it's also pleasing that we're back to business as usual, and it didn't vanish interminably. As it is, this book has, for me, taken on the spirit of Morrison's All Star Superman. That was out of continuity and a paean to everything he loved about the character. Batman Incorporated feels the same - happily carrying on as if the New 52 never happened, this title is now the closing chapters of Morrison's epic 'Bat-Novel' which he started in - gulp - 2006! (Time flies and all that!). He announced that he'll be finishing on issue #16, and hopefully that means we'll have a suitably grand conclusion to the saga. It's great to see him blend old Batman tropes (such as Batman's underworld alter-ego, Matches Malone) alongside the elements he's introduced, namely Damien Wayne and Talia's Leviathan organisation. It's a comic that I can imagine being baffling to the uninitiated, but for those of us who have followed the tale through the years, it's an absolute blast. Once again, Chris Burnham does a brilliant job illustrating the issue - Morrison can sometimes be let down by an artist (I still get a shudder thinking about some of those New X-Men issues) but with the right collaborator, it gives the inevitably mind-bending script a new edge. I think it's safe to say that this series will end with Batman triumphant, but just how Grant Morrison delivers the knockout punch should make for some fine reading. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Lenil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Sunny Gho
Marvel/Icon $4.99

Matt C: Unexpectedly, this has turned out to be Millar's most satisfying story in a while. I didn't exactly have high hopes: Millar's hit and miss, it felt too ‘high concept’, and I've never been particularly fond of Yu's art, but against the odds it was not only a cleverly constructed narrative (utilizing familiar heist tropes wisely) but the script was lively and Yu's art was impressively sleek. For an essentially one-note idea, Millar fleshes it out with some suitable surprises and decent characterizations, and whereas some of his recent minis felt like they'd been stretched out further than necessary (highlighting their flimsy nature) this one feels tight and the perfect length. Proof that sometimes, amidst all the self-generated hype, Millar can still deliver the goods. 8/10

Stewart R:  A bumper finale issue and a bit of a bumper price; five bucks for any Millar finale will always seem a bit of a gamble as he just appears to be a writer who hits a winner as often as he does a sub-par effort. Thankfully Supercrooks has turned out to be one of his stronger efforts with a clearly thought out arc that nails the heist genre perfectly.  There are a good few twists and turns as expected and they come fairly thick and fast throughout, delivered with panache by the steady hand of one Mr Leinil Yu, whose skills just get stronger by the issue.  It’s thanks to him that those surprises and ‘payoff’ moments are so damn effective, although I will just state that it wasn’t always quite clear who was who when certain members of the criminal crew are out of their super get-ups.  And speaking of the crew, I did come away from this story about so-called villains feeling that I had just seen many of the character tropes from Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven series just wrapped up and repackaged in comic form here.  It’s not that it doesn’t work as it helps this to be as entertaining a read as it is, but I can’t help feel that perhaps Millar is just becoming the king of reshaping and redelivering old stories rather than a writer with fresh and innovative comic ideas.  8/10

Writer: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
DC $2.99

Matt C: Even though they’ve been the writers since the start, this series definitely becomes more brisk, lively and memorable when Manapul and Buccellato are on art duties too. The people of Central City have turned against the Flash thanks to the manipulations of Dr. Darwin Elias, and if that wasn’t enough to contend with, the Scarlet Speedster has to deal with the reformed Rogues who have an agenda of their own. Just as it should do, this issue zips along at a pace with some effective instances of Flash using different facets of his superpowers, something the writers have really brought to the fore since taking over. There are a couple of times where one panel doesn’t flow smoothly to another, but aside from that this is exactly what I want from a DC superhero comic (and haven’t got from a lot of the New 52 titles): clear, exciting, classic storytelling that pushes things forward while reminding you of why you loved the genre in the first place. 8/10

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