2 Sept 2012

Mini Reviews 02/09/2012

We may not have time to review every book on our pull-lists but we do aim to provide a snapshot of what's been released over the past week, encompassing the good, the bad, and those that lie somewhere in between.

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, David Finch and Various

James R: I really, really want to like Justice League. In principle, this should be the best book that DC publishes - highest profile characters, all with distinct and interesting personalities and incredible powers - but it continues to leave me cold. Some of it may have to do with the laughable first arc of this book, which made me doubt Geoff Johns' grip on the pacing and interaction needed to make it work. In the last few months it had started to show signs of improvement - the David Graves storyline had promise, and the issue that focused on Steve Trevor was a good read, but here, at the finale of the arc, I feel ambivalent. Some things are great - for what it's worth, the headline-grabbing relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman is handled really well, and makes a lot of sense. However, the interpersonal relationships of the rest of the JL continue to seem off-kilter - we've jumped forward to the ‘present day' in DC continuity terms, and thus the team have been together for five years... and still they squabble like a group of teenagers deciding on a pizza order! I know all family and friends argue, but really? How many times do we have to read an "I should lead us!" scene? On top of that, the defeat of Graves felt uninspired and plodding and the final nail in the coffin was that every 'Coming Soon!' plot trail in the back pages that failed to engage or interest me. Therefore I'm giving Justice League my own kiss - a kiss goodbye until there's some new creative talent on the title!  5/10

Matt C: It’s getting harder to justify picking up Justice League on a monthly basis. The first arc was a mess, but this second one initially showed signs of promise. Sadly the concluding chapter is by-the-numbers superheroics as the bad guy gets his comeuppance and the League stand around discussing how they could have done things better. On paper that’s not such a bad thing, but the delivery here is hackneyed to say the least. Also – and I understand team books don’t allow for intense character studies – the DC icons are portrayed as mere sketches; the need for unearthing any juicy details seems to have been forgotten. Johns is usually good at this sort of thing, and while there are sporadic moments of depth, they rarely hit their targets. And then there’s the much ballyhooed Clark/Diana lip-locking which although it makes some sort of sense (I’m reminded of the ‘super-sperm’ dialogue form Mallrats) it just feels here like it was something dreamed up by the marketing department to keep the book (and the publisher) in the headlines. I suppose that’s somewhat unavoidable, even if the intentions were honest - Lois and Clark have been a thing for so long now that any deviation from that template is bound to be viewed with cynicism. Anyway, it’s not a great issue, and what really sticks in the craw is that the one consistently brilliant thing about the title over the last few months – the Shazam! backup – is absent. That story feels like Johns is putting his heart and soul into it whereas Justice League comes across as just another high profile gig for him. Justice League #0 is all about Captain Marvel so that’s a guaranteed purchase, but I’m going to have to start seriously thinking about whether a backup feature is really worth purchasing an otherwise disappointing comic for. 5/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso & Patricia Mulvihill

Stewart R: And so this future tale of genetically modified, super-brute astronauts, kidnappings, reality TV shows and evolved language comes to its conclusion.  My verdict?  Well, I’ve been left a little confused by the whole thing.  Azzarello clearly wraps everything up here, polishing off the story, throwing in a few surprises and a couple of loud bangs for good measure, but something just doesn’t feel quite ‘right’.  Orson and Carter’s history in the space programme is further explored, but I certainly wouldn’t say that we’re shown everything that we need to make this a truly cohesive read.  Even the decently sized epilogue that we’re provided with answers a few things yet throws up even more questions which I assume we’re to be left with, no future reveals or further insights ever to be provided.  Reaching the final chapter I’ve now sat back and realised how brave it has been for Azzarello to try his hand with a future dialect in his script and it very nearly works.  Unfortunately I found myself having to reread whole pages over to get a proper grip of what was being said in some instances and I’ll no doubt have to read all nine instalments in one go at some point to see if it all comes together more clearly.  The fact that I stuck with this project in order to have those nine issues to read through in the first place says something about Azzarello and Risso’s story; I just can’t help feel that the odd change here and there to ensure it was a slightly easier read might have made me more likely to recommend this, but as it stands I’ll probably be far too selective in who I would big this up to, and that’s a shame.  6/10

Matt C: It's been an impressive series that has seen Azzarello create an engaging protagonist in a brilliantly conceived future brought to life with an eager, emotional intensity by Risso. The dialect and environment the genetically engineered Orson operates in has been strong enough to provide a properly immersive experience for the reader and the kidnapping storyline proved to be a perfect vehicle to weave through his world. Unfortunately this concluding instalment didn't end in an entirely satisfactory manner, electing ambiguity over closure. It's not unexpected, as Azzarello never opts for the predictable, but it didn't give me the emotional kick I was looking for. A decent series all told, but falls short of being an essential addition to the collection. 7/10

FF #21
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Cris Peter
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Hickman continues to use his remaining time with Marvel’s First Family to address and study certain related situations that have been greatly affected by older Franklin and Valeria’s visit to the present.  Here it’s the political hot-potato of Ronan and Crystal’s marriage and the Kree Supreme Intelligence’s continuing mission to end the ‘abomination’ that are the Inhumans. Everything that unfolds is well thought out and shows that Hickman has come on leaps and bounds when it comes to juggling so many plot elements in what equates to a super-hero/sci-fi soap opera.  Sure, the kids that we were led to believe would play the lead roles in this comic book are pushed to the side this time around, but they still have a presence, and this probably highlights that the FF title has actually been about showing the world of the Fantastic Four and their closest allies from a slightly different, more emotional angle.  There’s little in the way of high-brow concepts on show here and plenty in the way of character development and insight into the heavy burden of responsibility.  While Ronan and Crystal themselves only make the briefest of appearances their pain is clear to see and it does tug at the old heartstrings. The brevity of the lovers’ appearance also helps to show just how big an issue this is for Black Bolt and the peace that he now knows he must broker. Thanks to Dragotta’s uncanny ability to capture drama in the simplest of facial expressions the silent King’s solemn task and the fallout therein are made all the more moving.  8/10

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

James R: Much has been (rightfully) made of Uncanny X-Force over the last couple of years, as Rick Remender has crafted a wonderfully dark tale of ethics and heroism on that title. At the same time, I think equal respect should be going Jason Aaron's way for this book, which in many ways is the 21st century updating of Stan Lee's original template for the book. Back then, he drew the parallel between the turmoil of adolescence with the difficulty of coming to terms with mutant powers. Aaron follows this blueprint, but makes the title as much about the teachers as it is the teens. His plots never moves too far from the Jean Grey School, and his cast of teachers are really working. I've always had a bizarre soft spot for Iceman (which comes from the J. M. DeMatteis' miniseries published in the back of Marvel UK's Secret Wars reprints in the ‘80s) and he's a perfect of example of why this book works so well - Aaron has rounded out his character, and along with the rest of the faculty staff (even Toad!), I find that I really care about them all. Equal parts touching, funny and thrilling, 15 issues in and this book shows no sign of slowing down. Who would have thought a book with Wolverine in the title would have such heart?!  8/10

Stewart R:  We’re still deep into AVX crossover territory here but that’s okay as Aaron is clearly comfortable to have the event seep its way into the day to day running of the Jean Grey School where teachers and pupils alike are questioning just where their loyalties should lie and just what it truly important to them in the here and now.  The playful fun that Aaron has with Broo’s contribution to Stark and McCoy’s brainiac workshop is highly amusing, Bobby and Kitty’s continued flirting in the face of yet another ‘inevitable doom’ is written with a decent amount of tongue in cheek and genuine feeling, and Quire’s bettering at the hands of Xavier is just the cherry upon the wholesome cake that this book has become.  Molina’s art style is a welcome addition to the title, sitting a little closer to Nick Bradshaw’s pencil work than soon to be outgoing (and my favourite) Chris Bachalo and I dare say that if this becomes a regular pencilling tag team the sense of continuity should rise.  Great fun, great dialogue, great visuals, great characters.  It’s just bloody great, innit!  9/10

Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke & Phil Noto
DC $3.99

Matt C: It’s perhaps too early to say for sure with the third instalment of Silk Spectre due for release this coming week, but based on his third issue of Minutemen it’s starting to look like Darwyn Cooke is the only writer involved in the entire Before Watchmen project that really has a handle on how to approach these characters and breathe new life into them, rather than simply rehashing what we’ve seen before or filling in the blanks. It’s not the writer/artist’s best work (that’s not a criticism, by the way!), but Minutemen is still the standout title in that it goes beyond what’s expected to bring a fresh perspective on these characters. Even when Cooke does expand on scenes we’ve seen before it’s far more tonally aligned with the original than anything Azzarello or Stracynski have come up with so far. Then there’s the art, and if there’s any contemporary artist more suited to evoking mid-period 20th century with such ease I’ve yet to see his work. As I said, it’s too early to say for sure with regards to Silk Spectre, but it’s looking like Minutemen will be a worthy accompanying tome for any bookshelf that already holds Watchmen. 8/10

James R: So far the Before Watchmen project has been mainly misfires from the writers. Their books have either failed to understand what made Alan Moore's characters so compelling in the first place, or the plots themselves have been uninspiring retreads of the original. Minutemen is without doubt the exception to the rule though as Darwyn Cooke continues to spin a tale that's worthy of the 1986 classic. The story is still told through the eyes of the original Nite Owl, but Cooke continues to bring the Silhouette to the fore. This is wise move on the part of Cooke - Silhouette was definitely a peripheral figure, appearing in just five panels of Watchmen. Cooke examines the relationship between her and Hollis Mason whilst simultaneously showing the discord at the heart of the Minutemen. As with all of Cooke's work, there is a wonderful feeling of time and place, and he uses Dave Gibbons' 9-panel grid style in a way that accentuates the plot, which frankly looks stunning. Is it as good as Watchmen? No, but few comics can claim that lofty title. Is it worthy of Watchmen though? I pleased to say that in this: it is a resounding ‘yes’! An outstanding comic in its own right, but also the only title that's living up to the pre-launch hype from DC. If you only pick up one Before Watchmen book... well, that's a good idea anyway, but certainly make it this one. 9/10

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Cary Nord, Stefano Gaudiano & Moose Baumann
Valiant $3.99

Stewart R: We’re properly into ‘fish out of water’ territory now as Visigoth warrior Aric of Dacia, having managed to escape the clutches of his alien captors with one of the most powerful weapons in the universe in his possession, arrives in Rome, but it is not the Empire-governed city that he once knew.  Rather predictably, Aric’s arrival in the Italian capital becomes the usual misunderstanding-leads-to-shoot-out fare, however it’s not over long and Nord’s pencilling and use of simple dynamic storytelling really helps to sell the action.  While that portion of the story was bombastic eye candy, I found the interactions amongst the ranks of the Vine hierarchy to be interesting enough as the disagreements in respect of Aric’s explosive escape spill-over and certain individuals begin to speak out of turn.  Even more interesting is the further developments back on Earth that will definitely sow trouble for the Manowar in upcoming issues, especially when the man out of time starts to interact and, I imagine, form relationships with people in this present day setting.  While I have enjoyed the first four issues of this series I will say that there’s not been anything spectacularly unpredictable occurring yet and I do hope that it turns out that Vendetti has a few surprises up his sleeve as we get further into the plot.  7/10

Writers: Kieron Gillen & Matt Fraction
Art: Carmine de Giandomenico & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I was somewhat apprehensive about this crossover as I'd given up on Fraction's Mighty Thor some time ago and was concerned that it would essentially continue story threads from that title at the expense of what Gillen's been cooking up on Journey Into Mystery. Turns out I needn't have worried as not only does the first proper part of 'Everything Burns' not ignore what the JIM scribe has been working on, it seems to encompass many of the elements that we've seen over the past year or so as Loki's clandestine missions for the All-Mother are revealed to all, threatening to cause a revolt in Asgard, which seems to fall directly into Surtur's plans. The mischievous wit Gillen's been employing on this title since the get go is still present and correct, leading to much amusement as Thor discovers exactly what his erstwhile brother has been up to behind his back, but also provides a thoroughly affecting moment which simply wouldn't have occurred if we were dealing with the classic adult Loki. Di Giandomenico does a fantastic illustrative job, having thoroughly impressed on the recent ‘Exiled’ crossover with New Mutants, and there are points where his style recalls one of the definitive Thunder God artists, Walt Simonson. A thrilling start to the storyline which will see out Fraction and Gillen's time on their respective books, suggesting that they’re going to be going out on a high note. 9/10

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