9 Sept 2012

Mini Reviews 09/09/2012

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: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The striking graphic design David Aja employs for the eminently memorable cover should make this book catch the eye of any reader perusing the shelves of their local comic store, but if they were to require further convincing? Well, try this on for size: Hawkeye has bolted right to the front of the pack, pure and simple. This is Fraction scaling things back and bringing an often overlooked character into the spotlight, unleashing him an environment that fits like a glove, fleshing out his non-masked life into something that feels full of depth and possibility. There’s a mix of the streetwise savvy of Immortal Iron Fist and the irreverence of Casanova on display here, and the writer constructs the issue to within an inch of its life, meaning that there’s simply no wastage – everything is on the page precisely because it needs to be. There’s warmth, humour and vibrant characterization coupled with an implicit understanding of how to get a story told in 20 pages that really makes its mark. And all this is even before we get to the art. Aja is knocking it out of the park in Hawkeye with the deceptive simplicity of his bold linework. The use of – amongst other visual tricks - silhouettes, characters running through panels, and a playful way with panel structuring, helps to create a graphical narrative that would suck you right in even without any dialogue or narration. When those pictures combine with the words though, well that’s comics at their best. Rounding things off, Matt Hollingsworth keeps his colour choices tight, allowing the titular character’s trademark purple to come to the fore, adding  to the unique look the book carries. With Marvel NOW! about to create a lot of brouhaha at the publisher and beyond, there’s a danger that less high profile books will get lost in all the noise. Don’t let that happen here because it’s a longshot that any of those books will get the jump on Hawkeye being Marvel’s best new title of 2012. 9/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: I think a great many readers out there will be sad to see Sweet Tooth end and, due to his disposition towards fantastical stories with a hard-edge fashioned in reality, I dare say that some of the events within Jeff Lemire's story may soon instil a sadness in the audience before the final page arrives. Here, in this issue, I can already sense that end approaching as Lemire brings all of the elements together, turns a fond yet serious gaze once again upon the relationship between Gus and Jeppard and sets up the inevitable and painful climax to come. Part of me is glad that Lemire has opted to look away somewhat from Dr Singh's discoveries and theories for now and focus more on what the down-to-earth Jeppard has to say on the matter and how he sees the near-future developing in his best-outcome/slim-odds demeanour. I'm certainly happy to see the plot turn away from providing answers to this world's inception and concentrate a little more on trying to find some sort of safety and anything near happiness for these engrossing characters. Reuniting Gus and Jeppard has lifted this series to greater heights and it has certainly helped to raise the nervous tension whilst reading this issue - every moment we get to spend in the company of the grizzled survivor and his young, doe-eyed (literally) charge has to be soaked up and enjoyed now as those encroaching clouds of the finale look gloriously black with a hint of silvery hope around the edges. 9/10

James R: After reading Matt C's excellent review of Scalped #60 the other week, I've spent a while thinking about finales. Regardless of the medium, it seems that a brilliant payoff is one of the hardest things to achieve in storytelling. Just think for a second - how many books, comics, films, whatever have been let down by a flat ending? And if it's not that, then some tales outstay their welcome. Like a guy who was entertaining at a party until they just have that one drink to many (not that I know anything about that... but anyway...!), some tales just go on to long. With now just three issues to go, I find myself in awe of Jeff Lemire and Sweet Tooth. Not only is he pacing the final arc perfectly, but he's finishing at just the right time. He seems to be ending each issue of this 'Wild Game' arc with a terrific cliffhanger that just keeps upping the stakes and the danger for Jeppard, Gus and co. It's inevitable that the series will end up in a face-off with Abbot and his soldiers, but the tension leading up to it is almost tangible. It almost goes without saying that Lemire's art is wonderful as usual. As I said in my extended review of The Underwater Welder, it's been brilliant to watch him hone his craft over the last few years, and I can't think of a single sub-par issue. I've warned my friends that there's a very good chance I'll be weeping when I read the final issue, but in the meantime, I'm savouring every moment of this sublime series. 9/10

Writer: Mat Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D'Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Escalation. Escalation. Escalation. That's what this story is now about and in my humble opinion it's becoming one of the most thrilling titles on Marvel's roster as a result. With a new ‘Armour Wars’ gameplan in hand and a generous amount of lead in time at his disposal, Matt Fraction has maintained an almost unhealthy (in that delightfully good way) amount of tension that is exemplified in this issue as Tony's plan to prevent the Mandarin from ostensibly destroying the world slides into focus in terrific underdog fashion. To get the one negative point out of the way, I do find the Mandarin's apparent underestimation of his arch nemesis to be a touch hard to swallow at this current time, but I do stand prepared to withdraw such criticism in the future as I suspect that Tony's evident ascendancy is likely to be stymied soon and stymied hard! His rallying of troops from his rogues gallery has seen some great dialogue emanate from Stark in recent issues and I actually enjoy seeing him have to work alongside lesser evils here to tackle a far greater threat – Fraction has always seemed keen to show that there are thick layers of moral grey in the Iron Man Universe and he has clearly succeeded. The true success of this title has been the ability to vary pace when required and we're clearly moving into that heart-pumping, nail-biting stage of frenetic excitement and Fraction, like some kind of tantric-comic-fiction guru is teasing us to mind-warping levels before we even get to that orgasmo-reading climax in a few months time. 9/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: Is this book making me smarter yet? I’m not sure about that, but I will say it’s giving it’s all in trying to achieve that aim, the result being a cerebrally stimulating and skilfully mischievous comic that’s a thrill to read. The trigger for David’s rebellion is revealed here, and it’s more a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back, as his overactive imagination has been constantly reminding him that his desire for utilizing his grey matter in ways normal folk can’t conceive of has resulted in him having blood on his hands, one way or another. He wants out, so he starts to set his plan in motion, and one of the key factors in getting us, the readers, on his side, is that writer Hawkins ensures his protagonist is a believable, flawed human being who’s egotism is almost - but crucially, not quite - enough to stop him thinking about the consequences of his actions.  That and there’s a fine current of humour (mostly black) flowing through the pages. Oh, and Ekedal ensures that the emotion is all over David’s face to reflect the content of the narration, and that his daydreams of destruction are rendered with an explosive effectiveness. Sometimes an impressive debut issue is followed by a lacklustre sophomore effort. That’s most definitely not the case here. 8/10

Stewart R: No sign of any 'second issue dip' here whatsoever as super genius and growing conscientious objector David Loren sees the repercussions to, and receives the punishment for, his off-base jaunt and continued air of resistance to his employers. Writer Matt Hawkins backs these current events with a microscope view of David's mental justifications and doubts about his actions, attitudes and inventions over the past decade and what he has contributed to the military machine. There's a superb level of realistic soul searching to be found in Think Tank as David focuses on the smaller turning points that have seen him reach his ethical dilemma while acknowledging that he's had his hands in far bigger and more dangerous projects – how often do we highlight smaller, sometimes seemingly insignificant moments of our lives as key markers in larger swings and diversions? The rivalry with the arrogant and unflinching Dr Sejic is played for a successful laugh, but also shows that there are cogs in the machine who are of course always happy to never question the motives and consequences of their work. Mannish on the other hand sits on a similar side of the moral compass to David yet suffers from a lack of the confidence and outright rebellion against his employers that his good friend does – he's a great aid to the protagonist and the 'put upon friend' dynamic is definitely a necessary plot point to inject an emotional tug at a more personal level. The art from Ekedal once again captures a myriad of facial emotion and expression, while his depiction of technological warfare atrocities are powerful in a terrifically muted way, thanks partly to the black and white format which removes the usual gruesome stimulant that is blood red. After two issues this title is now a permanent fixture on my pull list for the entirety of the journey and I highly recommend that you get involved too! 9/10

Writer Scott Snyder
Art: Kano & Matthew Wilson
DC $2.99

James R: When DC rebooted their universe, one of the issues I had as the dust settled was that the continuity seemed off-kilter. Batman had only been Batman for five years? But that meant that Dick Grayson would have been Robin for about five minutes! And… well, you get the idea. If the 'Zero Month' has arrived to sort this out with *ahem* "secret origins unveiled" (copyright DC PR dept.) then this first selection hasn't quite cleared things up, but here on Swamp Thing, Scott Snyder has done something canny. His take on the origin of Swamp Thing doesn't usurp or ignore the brilliant work done by Alan Moore, rather he augments it. Oddly enough I was reminded of Back To The Future Part II while reading this. In that movie Bob Gale revisited scenes from the original without altering the narrative. Snyder does the same thing here: Alec Holland still gets turned into Swamp Thing following an explosion in his lab, one that sends him hurtling into the swamp, but now we see what other forces were at work. This issue is as much about the evil of Anton Arcane and the Parliament of Trees as it is Swamp Thing, and that's no bad thing. I'm a big fan of the idea that Alec Holland is just the latest in a long line of Green protectors, and any tale that builds on that mythology is a hit with me. There's also some genuinely creepy and unsettling moments thanks to Kano's art, and it's good to see that the book's Vertigo roots (excuse the pun) remain intact. Even though I would have liked to have read the next chapter of 'Rotworld' this month, Swamp Thing #0 was still a very satisfying distraction. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction & Keiron Gillen
Art: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Last week’s opening chapter of ‘Everything Burns’ in Journey Into Mystery #642 was an absolute blinder, cementing that title in my mind at the very top of Marvel’s current output. It was clear that Keiron Gillen was still in charge of things there, just as it’s clear that here – while Gillen gets co-writer credit – Matt Fraction has his hands on the reigns. I obviously don’t have a problem with Fraction’s writing, as evidenced by my unbridled love of this week’s Hawkeye #2, but although early signs suggested otherwise, to my mind his never quite ‘got’ how to handle Asgard and it’s citizens (and is it just me, or is anyone else wondering when it started being called Asgardia?).  That’s evidenced here by a fairly clunky script that plods where the previous instalment soared, relying on bombast at the expense of subtlety. It’s perfectly readable, but if I wasn’t keen to see this story through to its completion, this issue wouldn’t tempt me back to the title. The highlight is the art from Davis (with regular collaborator Farmer on inks). Even now, over 30 years into his professional career, his artwork frequently astounds with its fluency and fluidity – there’s no question in my mind that he’s one of the masters of the medium. If there’s a fault, it’s a reveal of a character that doesn’t really look too similar to how he or she (no spoilers!) was previously portrayed, but that aside, it’s a handsome book to look at. Looks to me like they’ll be some inconsistency in quality as we move from chapter to chapter during this tale, but I can’t same I wasn’t expecting as much. 6/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tony Avina & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

Stewart R: So a #0 issue and an origin story as many of the other DC titles will receive this month, but Johns elects to provide us with another Green Lantern from Earth and this time he opts to play the Islam card and centre-punch a big old fat lesson about prejudice into the middle of the reader's forehead. From the initial page which harks back to the tragic events of 9/11 to a sequence that threatens the hideous torture art of waterboarding, there is no real sense of subtlety here and it casts a bit of doubt into my mind on Johns' ability to deliver close, personal character development away from the likes of established characters such as Hal Jordan and Sinestro where much of the hard work has already been done by the legacy of writers before him. Simon Baz shows remorse for the pain that he's caused his family and a sense of injustice that there are bigger fish out there that the authorities don't seem interested in frying, but that's about deep as any characterisation gets – the rest of the issue is too concerned with the Guantanamo Bay parallel to look elsewhere and ultimately the actual involvement of anything Green Lantern related seems tacked on and a touch premature. The idea of another human Lantern disappoints me further – while I can see that the location of the recent events involving Hal made this the most likely outcome, it staggers me that the 9/11 allegory couldn't have been represented in the origin of a character from a different species rather than expanding the Earthen cast even further in a comic world that has on the odd occasion appeared slightly bloated under Johns guidance. As it stands this is a #0 issue that isn't required reading (I suspect that readers who don't pick this up won't find themselves disadvantaged a great deal when reading GL #13) and has me thanking my lucky stars that there's only one other zero chapter that I'll be investing in this month. 4/10

Writers: Alan Moore, Malcolm McClaren & Antony Johnston
Art: Facundo Percio & Hernan Cabrera
Avatar Press $3.99

James R: I was really excited to see that Avatar were bringing us Fashion Beast. For those not in the know, Fashion Beast was a film script that Alan Moore was commissioned to write by music svengali Malcolm McClaren when Moore was in the middle of redefining comics in the Eighties. Moore had produced V For Vendetta, The Killing Joke and of course Watchmen when he received the call from McClaren to rewrite the tale of Beauty And The Beast set in the world of high fashion. Moore has always said he was happy with the script - as was McClaren - but the project didn't get funded, and Fashion Beast has become something of lost Moore work. This month sees Antony Johnston's adaptation of that script, and while it’s not the most blistering comic you'll read this year, it's certainly interesting. The fascination comes from the sense of time in which the script was originally written. The story takes place in a nameless city and time, but it is clearly rooted in the Eighties. There's much talk of Nuclear War, and the Catwalk Club featured here is reminiscent of the Blitz Club,  the birthplace of the New Romantics. On top of this there's even a sequence featuring vogueing! Now there's one for the teenagers! How much of this is Moore, and how much is Johnston (or even McClaren) is unclear, but I found this a diverting enough read. If, like me, you're a die-hard Moore fan, you should seek this out - just don't expect to unearth a lost classic. 7/10

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

Stewart R: Well, A.J. Lieberman wasn't kidding when he said that there wouldn't be much in the way of light and positivity when it came to this black market organ harvesting thriller! Ben Dane sinks further into the pit his life has become, getting embroiled in some seriously shady shit and messing with the wrong people. Lieberman ensures that Ben really does come across as someone with very little left to fight for or care about as he agrees to get back to the operating table with little regard for the Hippocratic Oath and, it appears to begin with, little concern for his 'patients'. The sudden shift later on is a tad unexpected at such an early stage, but then in a 5-part series I guess there's little time to draw things out on the slow build and Lieberman adds just the right amount of Ben's self-analysis and personal torment with the visions of the young boy to let the audience in on his predicament of conscience. Lorimer's brooding artwork, dare I say it, shines through here with the heavy inking and variation in colour palette working tremendously well alongside truly explosive and shocking panels; seriously, that last page is quite a sombre jolt to the old brain box indeed and an image that will likely stay with this reader for some time. If you like them dark, gritty and wince-worthy then you should definitely pick up Harvest. 8/10

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