16 Sep 2012

Mini Reviews 16/09/2012

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.

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #11
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Oliver Coipel, Mark Morales & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99


James R: So, we're almost at the finish line on Marvel's giganto-crossover event. It might just be me having an eventful year, but issue #1 feels like it came out an aeon ago. We're now down to the penultimate showdown as Scott and Emma take on, well, virtually everyone. I always try to avoid fanboy cliché when I review - for example, I don't ever want to write a "But Superman could never outrun the Flash!" missive, as I think at the end of the day it's superhero comics, and you have to let a whole lot slide! However, I do take umbrage when writers start to break rules they've established in the course of a series, and there were a couple of occasions in this issue that I thought "Really?!" If you have two characters who are virtually omniscient by this stage in the game (and as you can read in Kieron Gillan's Uncanny X-Men, capable of existing on multiple planes of existence) then I find it tough to believe that a massive Gamma-irradiated rage monster can sneak up on you! Or for that matter, someone you've known since you were a teenager getting the drop on you with a snow blizzard! I'm sure there will be those who say, "Ah, but the Phoenix force is driving them mad, they're not thinking straight anymore!", but given the sophistication this series has achieved at points, this felt like a retrograde step. On the plus side, it looks beautiful - Coipel's pencils are superb as usual, and Laura Martin's colours do a fine job of suggesting the middle of a maelstrom. I also felt the much-discussed death was well worked and given the relationship between Cyclops and Professor X, it carried more weight than event book deaths have in the past. So, all told, it's alright but don't be expecting a classic - let's hope the final chapter delivers a last hurrah before Marvel NOW! begins. 7/10


Matt C: Now we've reached the penultimate chapter it's pretty clear that this is a series that has bobbed up and down in terms of quality, likely because of a too many cooks scenario that gave way to pacing issues. Having said that, it's actually turned out far better than it could of been, with the lesser instalments effectively riding on the coattails of the superior ones. Bendis hasn't really been responsible for many high points (bar maybe the first issue) but this one's pretty successful, if predictable. The meat of it is the clash between Cyclops and Professor X, which is handled well, the mutant mentor's confident approach barely concealing the hopelessness of the situation. There are a few instances of Bendisisms (for want of a better word) but unlike a lot of the writer's mainstream superhero work, it engaged and thrilled for the duration, thanks in no small part to Coipel's luxuriant art, beautifully coloured by Martin. There's also a somewhat pleasing symmetry with the original Phoenix Saga that has made this a cut above the majority of Marvel's recent events. 7/10

BATMAN #0
Writers: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Gregg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Andy Clarke & FCO Plascencia
DC $3.99


James R: Yesterday, our good friend Tom P sounded his dissatisfaction at this issue, so I feel it's my turn to fight its corner! Tom argued that Batman had a great origin and early years tales, and as such this felt a little superfluous. I can see where he’s is coming from, but for me, this issue #0 isn't about erasing those stories - rather it's about refocusing the story with an eye on what's to come. This tale takes place after the whole "I shall become a bat" origin - Jim Gordon tells us Bruce has been back for three months. What's more important here is seeing that the New 52 Batman isn't a whole lot different to the Batman we know and love, and the indtroduction to the Red Hood gang. I know I've said it before, but Grant Morrison's claim that Batman is a great character because he can accommodate so many interpretations should be remembered here. It's easy to forget that DC's relaunch has brought a group of new readers to the book for the first time, or back after a long break from comics, and if you consider these readers, this issue does a great job of bringing them up to speed. One thing I will agree with Tom is the crazy policy of having the three Robins crushed into five years. The blame for this shouldn't be placed at Scott Snyder's feet - it's clear that the '5 years' time limit has been a DC editorial policy that hasn't been thought through properly. I know this is just fanboy posturing, but might I suggest this could have been averted by setting the early Batman adventures as '10 years ago', and having him be the shadowy figure of urban myth until the events of Justice League #1? Time matters aside, I still loved this issue and with the return of the Joker next month, it will certainly remain the title on top of my pull-list. 8/10

Matt C:  This is my first taster of DC's Zero Month, and seeing as how Batman is arguably the best superhero book the publisher are currently putting out, I'm wondering whether to bother seeking out any more issue #0s. The art's up to Greg Capullo's usual standard but the main story, a look back at some of Bruce Wayne's early crimefighting antics prior to donning the iconic cape and cowl, doesn't quite cut the mustard. It's not a bad idea per se, but I think Bruce's apparent lack of grief over the murder of innocent civilians following a bank heist seemed way out of character, booting me straight out of the story. Snyder does set up a tense sequence involving a prototype Batarang, but by the end of it I was longing for the simmering intensity of Year One. The backup is better, featuring a key moment in the lives of a handful of future Bat-sidekicks (although from a continuity perspective, things are starting to looking very messy), but all in all I would have far preferred getting on with the main event rather than getting sidetracked like this. 6/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #16
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R:  You know what, for all of DC’s bluster and horn-tooting for their #0 initiative this month, I dare say that they may have been beaten at their own game by one solitary Marvel issue. This month’s Wolverine & The X-Men takes us on a journey through the young life of Kade Kilgore, leader of the Hellfire Club and devilishly evil genius to boot, and shows us how the fortunes of one of the most secretive and powerful groups changed so dramatically in such a short space of time. Aaron is such a dab hand at colourful characterisation and his matter-of-fact, fourth-wall-breaking Kade delivers a superb narration of his early days, showing us just how unemotional and cold this young man is and also highlighting how brazen and calculating he can be when even staring into the faces of the Phoenix Five. When mentioning those specific X-Men who have been bordering on the power-drunk and flame enhanced recently you would expect a fair amount of fireworks and explosions yet things actually remain brilliantly understated on what is to be Chris Bachalo’s last issue of this title for the foreseeable future.  Where a couple of issues in his run have seem a touch rushed, this is clearly the man working close to his best with terrific shifts in shading and tone (he also does his own colouring these days) that make him clearly stand out as a modern day artist who is perfectly suited to bringing flashback pieces to the page.  He’ll be missed on a title that definitely suited his style and skills and I can only applaud the fact that he was given the opportunity in the first instance.  8/10

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #0
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna, Marc Deering & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99


Stewart R: Guy Gardner gets a bit of an altered origin story. The end. Of course there’s a bit more to it than that, but not by much. This follows standard comic formula by showing us a moment of doubt during Guy’s early training days as a Lantern recruit, which then relates back to his family life back on Earth and how it was that he became a Green Lantern in the first instance.  Suffice to say that he draws strength from those earlier events to power through and earn his stripes under the tutoring gaze of Kilowog.  And then there’s a bit of baiting and banter with Hal Jordan and, oh my, isn’t this just unmissable stuff?!  No, unfortunately it’s not.  Tomasi does well enough with what appears to be an exercise of bizarre stupidity on DC’s part, forcing this #0 initiative across the entirety of the surviving New 52 titles and leaving the Green Lantern Corps scribe with little choice but to hand in an unnecessary Gardner origin - gods only know how yawn-worthy a John Stewart origin would have seemed! - and if anything it’s enjoyable to see that Guy remains as headstrong today as he was...*sigh*... five years ago in continuity time.  Unfortunately this will remain an issue that really doesn’t contribute a great deal to the series as a whole, seeming a touch threadbare and hackneyed. Pasarin is as ever consistent with his artwork - I’d honestly pick up an airline safety guide if he’d had a hand in it - yet compared to his smashing contribution to the last arc of GLC this is not in the same league. Further evidence that DC’s editorial decision-making may be hampering the talent that they have on the books currently.  4/10

UNCANNY X-FORCE #31
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Phil Noto, Frank Martin & Dean White
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: In the same way that you wouldn't tell someone to start watching a TV series two episodes from a season finale, I can't tell you to pick up Uncanny X-Force if you haven't been doing so already. In fact, if you haven't, do yourself a favour, go back and pick up 'The Apocalypse Solution' in TPB as - trust me - Remender has put together one of the most sophisticated books of the decade. For the rest of us, this month isn't big on action, or shock twists, but it is majestic in how it continues to play with the themes of this arc and the book as a whole. As Wolverine and co. begin to track down the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, young Evan's fate hangs in the balance as the eternal argument of nature vs. nurture starts to play out. I'm hugely impressed with the way Remender has the book leaping to other worlds and alternate futures while maintaining the character development - you have to salute any writer who can turn Deathlok into an essential member of the supporting cast! Phil Noto does a fine job on pencils, and Frank Martin's colours are impressively augmented by Dean White, giving the book a terrific sense of continuation and consistency of tone. I've said it a lot over the last two years, but I still can't believe that I'm enjoying an X-book. I'm a little heartbroken it will be coming to an end with issue #35, but at the same time, I have to respect Remender for leaving us wanting more... and hope Uncanny Avengers is as magnificent as this title. 9/10

PUNK ROCK JESUS #3
Writer: Sean Murphy
Art: Sean Murphy
DC/Vertigo $2.99


Matt C: A lot comic book artists turn their hand to writing and often the best you can say is that they're competent. They understand (usually) how to structure a narrative but their dialogue and narration is leaden, merely there to serve the art rather than compliment or enhance it. We know that Sean Murphy can draw (and boy, can he draw!) but Punk Rock Jesus has proven without a doubt that he's not an artist with designs on being a writer, he's one of those rare breed of creators that's equally competent with both skillsets. His story is ingenious and absorbing, populated by characters with depth and humanity, and that's not something you can fake or create the illusion of with sterling imagery. There are a few time jumps this issue as the Christ-clone known to the watching world as Chris goes from baby to teen, gets integrated into society by joining a regular school (albeit with heavyset, conflicted bodyguard Thomas in tow), and fails to form solid relationships, while his mother continues to balance on the verge of breakdown. It's compulsive reading, even before Murphy throws in a curveball out of the left field. Punk Rock Jesus is good enough to make you wish Vertigo had commissioned it as an ongoing rather than a mini. 8/10

BATMAN AND ROBIN #0
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99


Stewart R:  Right, so I’ve torn into Green Lantern Corps #0 a touch already and though I’ve not reviewed it myself I have to lend some agreement to Tom P’s review of Batman #0 this week. On top of last week’s Green Lantern #0 mediocrity (where, admittedly, I incorrectly stated that I was only picking up two #0 issues this month) I guess that this has been a shambles in entirety?  Well actually, no as it turns out.  In Batman And Robin #0 Tomasi delves into the backstory of one Damian Wayne and the incredibly tough and ruthless schooling he received at the hands of his mother, Talia Al Ghul. I really enjoyed the action packed first few pages which demonstrate this young assassin-turned-hero’s abilities perfectly with Patrick Gleason’s energetic and dramatic pencilling shining through. From there we are given a glimpse into the mother/son relationship and how the shadow of his father hung over Damian’s childhood in small ways, even in his unknowing absence. The sequence spread across a double page, where Damian’s failed attempts to best his mother upon each birthday intersplice with the many incredible lessons and activities that he lives through in the short space of some 10 years, is just brilliant and proves to me that at least one of the #0 stories was indeed worth telling after all. A shining light amongst a dull and grey month is still a shining light in its own right!  8/10

X-O MANOWAR #5
Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Lee Garbett, Stefano Gaudiano & Moose Baumann
Valiant $3.99


Matt C: I'm still rolling along with this series as, despite some reservations, I like the concept and am enjoying the delivery. Having not read any of the original series back in the '90s (or any Valiant series for that matter) the melding of Ancient Rome and alien technology in contemporary society is perfect sci-fi/supehero fodder, and Venditti seems to be more than capable of keeping his plot moving rapidly and maintaining a consistent page-turning quality. Garbett proves to be a good fit for continuing the book's look after taking the artistic reigns for this issue from Cary Nord. Apparently this instalment is a big deal for Valiant fans as it features the first reappearance of Ninjak, who comes across as a rather generic assassin to me, but I guess that's not necessarily a bad thing at this point. What's stopping me from loving this book is the protagonist, the wearer of the Manowar armour, Aric of Dacia. He just doesn't seem to be particularly likeable. Obviously he's been through a lot, and has lost everything he knew, but he still comes across as arrogant and dour, and lacks that glint in the eye that's probably needed. I'll continue picking up X-O Manowar for the foreseeable future, but its position on my pull-list may not be permanent if I can't find a character I can root for. 7/10

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #643
Writer: Kieron Gillen & Matt Fraction
Art: Carmine di Giandomenico & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $2.99


Matt C: Once again, this title is where the ‘Everything Burns’ crossover is really shinning, making Mighty Thor looks pale in comparison. In fact, I wonder if readers of Mighty Thor who perhaps (foolishly!) weren't on board with this book beforehand are keeping up, because the plot does seem to require a substantial amount of knowledge regarding what's happened to Loki since the aftermath of Siege saw him reincarnated as a teenage boy - heck, even I had trouble remembering some of the ins and outs of what occurred! The centrepiece of the issue is a conversation between Loki and another character, where the God of Mischief reveals that perhaps everything he's done in this series so far has been part of a grand manipulation of everyone else for his own personal gain. Or perhaps not. The genius of how Gillen has built this character up is that you never quite know how much of what Loki's saying is the truth, and how much is either what he knows another character wants to hear, or what Loki himself wants them to hear. So here we are, approaching the end of the run, and I have no idea which side Loki is playing for, if any. This, when coupled with di Giandomenico's crisp illustrations, makes for a very fine package indeed. I'll be sad to see Loki depart this book along with Gillen when Marvel NOW! introduces a new creative team with Sif as the protagonist, as I can't say I'm interested to see where that's headed. 8/10

WINTER SOLDIER #10
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99


Stewart R:  The Black Widow’s brainwashing at the hands of defrosted and vengeful Soviet Soldier, Leo Novokov, coupled with the recent news that Brubaker will soon be leaving the ongoing story of Bucky Barnes, has tinged things with a definite sadness on this title and made it even more compelling as a result. Brubaker has never shied away from storylines and plot points that bring with them hefty doses of emotional pain and right now we’re going through the wringer with Bucky as his hopes for anything like a happy life have seemingly been torn away from him again. This week Brubaker takes us through the dissection of the tragic events that unfolded upon the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier as Natasha’s manipulation led to fatal consequences and even more questions in need of answering.  While I’ve admired the fact that Winter Soldier has managed to avoid bringing in the usual faces from the wider Marvel Universe, the inclusion of certain characters here is superbly delivered and explained, further highlighting  just how dangerous and concerning a position Natasha currently finds herself in.  As much as I’m praising the writing here a huge tip of the hat has to go in the direction of the art team as Guice and Breitweiser’s contributions are a truly important element, enhancing every moment of brooding desperation or breathtaking action. I’m truly worried about where Brubaker and company will leave the Bucky & Natasha relationship and that makes every single issue simply unmissable.  8/10

THE MASSIVE #4
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Garry Brown & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.50


Matt C: This second arc of this intriguing, expansive series begins, bringing in a new artist in the shape of Garry Brown, who's sketchy but firm style can be favourably compared to Jock's, and is very successful at conveying the post-Crash environment where sunbaked Third World countries seem more equipped to cope without governments through their burgeoning black markets. You may not have thought that a tree-hugging pacifist would make the most compelling protagonist in an apocalyptic future, but Callum Israel is far more complex than any jokey, reductive pigeon-holing would indicate, as evidenced in this issue where he's confronted by his past life by staring down the barrel of a gun. Although ostensibly this story is about the ongoing search for the lost ship, The Massive, that's actually only a secondary concern as primarily, at least at this juncture, Wood is more interested in exploring this incredibly detailed (and blatantly well-researched) world he's created, and it's difficult to think why anybody wouldn't want to join him on the journey. 8/10

BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN #3
Writer: Brian Azzerello
Art: J.G. Jones, Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina
DC $3.99


Matt C: I have no idea what Azzerello is hoping to achieve with this series now. That first issue seemed to suggest a bold, unexpected take was in the offing, with certain continuity issues perhaps purposefully designed to reveal hidden layers of Eddie Blake's life story. That was what I assumed anyway, but it seems I was way off base on that. What we appear to be getting is Blake being shoved into various political hot potato episodes during the '60s (Vietnam, Civil Rights) but the writer does it in a way that seems not only so far removed from what Watchmen was about but also treats its central character as something of a caricature. Yeah, the art's great, but that's a given with the Before Watchmen project now. You get the sense that Azzarello is attempting to take a James Ellroy approach to US history and that it's highly likely he would have been more effective if his tale had absolutely nothing to do with the Watchmen universe. 4/10

James R: In this issue, the Comedian throws dog poo at LAPD Police chief William H. Parker because he's a racist. Possibly not going to win an Eisner.  2/10

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