30 Sep 2012

Mini Reviews 30/09/2012

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.

HAPPY! #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Darick Robertson & Richard P. Clark
Image $2.99


Matt C: This initially felt like it had come from the pen of Garth Ennis rather than Grant Morrison. A large part of that is down to frequent Ennis collaborator Robertson’s artwork, put there’s also a cynical viciousness inherent in many of the characters we’re introduced to, and the crime milieu is something we’re more familiar seeing from the Northern Irish writer than the Glaswegian iconoclast. Then Morrison introduces an element that makes it clear we’re not dealing with a regular gangster tale but to be honest I’m not too sure I found it that convincing. From what I’ve read, this will supposedly play out like a criminal version of It’s A Wonderful Life, and while I don’t know how true that is, I am intrigued by the concept,  I’m just not sure this is the way to approach it. The crux of it is that none of these characters are particularly pleasant, and while that’s not an automatic problem, they’re not proving to be the kind of creations I’m keen to spend time with. The art is accomplished and the script requires the reader’s attention, but I’m undecided whether the delivery of the core idea is strong enough to get me beyond this debut issue. 6/10


James R: There were a number of things that drew me to this title: firstly, I'll always take a look at anything Grant Morrison writes, and seeing that this is a four-issue miniseries - and Morrison often turns in his strongest work when having to keep to a limited page count - this looked promising. Secondly, Image have established themselves this year as the home of interesting and creative work, and so a book about a hard-as-nails ex-cop and his imaginary friend Happy the Horse has to be worth a look! It's a great premise, but this first instalment felt like Morrison delivering some very familiar genre tropes. Our protagonist Nick Sax is not only ultra-tough, but a disgraced former cop at war with the mob. He manages to take time out from his mob hit to save a prostitute from a serial killer, and if you've read more than a handful of comics, you've certainly seen this before. I'm aware that Morrison is probably setting up these clich├ęs to subvert them in the coming issues, but from the mind that brought us We3 I expected a little more dazzle from the start. As a long-time Batman reader, it's interesting to see Morrison tapping into the 'Tough Guy with Cute Imaginary Friend' idea again - he's used it during the 'Batman RIP' arc when he reintroduced Bat-Mite. It's clear he thinks there's an interesting story to tell here - but I'm hoping that becomes more evident in the next issue. 7/10

DANCER #5
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Nic Klein
Image $3.50


Matt C: The concluding instalment of this miniseries doesn’t resolve things in an entirely unexpected manner but it does provide a tense package of thrills that keeps you gripped until the final page. There are shades of the Bourne series of movies here, as Dancer deals with genetically-altered and programmed assassins, but the cloning angle allows it to be its own thing, and the general world-weariness that flows through it gives it a certain brutal poignancy. Klein’s art, with its heavy inks and slightly blocky style, amplifies the sense of stubborn regretfulness that the main character carries around with him, and the faded colour palette brings to life a world where emotion is kept at bay as much as possible. With this, The Activity and Who Is Jake Ellis?, Nathan Edmondson seems to be carving himself out a welcome niche of comic books that exist in a black-ops environment, where characters go about their business with extreme prejudice. More please. 8/10

PROPHET #29
Writer: Brandon Graham
Art: Farel Dalrymple, Joseph Bergin III & Charo Solis
Image $2.99


Matt C: There really is no other comic quite like Prophet on the shelves, and it's been something of a revelatory discovery for me in 2012. For starters, although there's a core plotline - the mission to restart the Earth Empire - it frequently goes off on tangential journeys as we are introduced to a variety of John Prophet clones, so I guess calling it a sprawling epic seems to be something of an understatement as we continue to move forward. Graham constantly pushes away from routine comic book sci-fi by utilising some outlandish, ingenious ideas and often poetic language. And then there's the artwork from a number of supremely talented individuals (all hitherto unknown to me) who also aim for the stars and beyond with some frankly stunning and beautiful illustrations. A case in point is the first double-page splash in this issue depicting Prophet and his party crossing through the middle of an interstellar war that's been raging for 300 years; the level of detail and imagination on display is so startling that you feel you could get lost inside it for hours. The simple but effective backup feature from Andy Ristaino is the icing on the cake, and if anyone was ever harbouring any doubts that Prophet is the best science fiction comic currently on the stands, this issue should dispel them with ease. 9/10

X-MEN #36
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99


James R: Wonderfully isolated away from the whole AVX kerfuffle, Brian Wood's X-Men continues to impress. I've said before I consider it a shame that Marvel are chopping and changing their X-books after finally making them both accessible to new readers and written by great writers, and to think that there's only one issue left of Wood's run here, it's a definite loss. I've loved how he's kept the cast to a core of five, and the idea of the proto-mutants has been inspired. In this issue Storm's team track down a proto-mutant who is still alive in the present day, the mysterious Gabriel Shepard. Wood's script mixes great characterisation with an intelligent plot, and it’s helped by the return of David Lopez on pencils. His art walks the fine line between the fantastic and the real very well and suits Wood's writing perfectly. Our esteemed fellow blogger Justin Giampaoli over at Thirteen Minutes describes this book as "the thinking man's X-Men" and I can only concur with him. This issue was involving from first page to last, and my enjoyment was only curtailed at the thought that this title's magic will only last for one more issue. I know it's not a direct swap, but the thought of Marvel deciding that they don't want more of this, and would rather have Bendis' All-New X-Men... well, I just hope they know what they're doing and that we haven't seen the last of Brian Wood writing the 616 X-Men. 8/10

Matt C: It was a real shame to discover that Brian Wood's tenure on this title was only going to be a short one as it turns out this is his penultimate issue. It's disappointing because he's whipped the book into the shape of one of the most compelling and intelligent superhero titles on the market, taking what's probably not the most obvious collection of mutants and transforming them into a dynamic, cohesive team. He's also made the team's leader, Storm, the most rounded and interesting she's been in a while, taking matters into her own hands and keeping certain things away from the watchful eye of Cyclops. It's great to have Lopez and Lopez back as the book suffered from less accomplished art over the last couple of issues, the firmness of their visuals complimenting the smart, serious tone of Wood's script. Brief but memorable, it's questionable that this book will retain its vitality post Marvel NOW!. 8/10

MIND MGMT #5
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.50


James R: Once again, Matt Kindt's intriguing series produces the goods. This month he brings us another issue that grabs the reader's attention from the first page and simply doesn't let go. We learn more about Henry Lyme and how he has come to be an outcast from the Mind MGMT organization, but we also start to see how Meru (the Stanley to Lyme's Livingstone) fits into Lyme's past. This sets up a plethora of narrative possibilities, and part of the fun of this series is trying to second-guess where Kindt is going with his tale of global espionage and psychic prowess. It all builds to a terrific cliffhanger which leaves it nicely poised ahead of the final issue of book one next month. For me, Mind MGMT has yet to put a foot wrong - in terms of pace, narrative and plot revelation Kindt has been masterful, and outside of the Big Two, this is firmly my book of the year. (And as a side issue - does anyone think that Matt Kindt's 'Mind' webpage not existing is part of a ruse... or that he just hasn't got round to putting it up yet?!) 9/10

Matt C: I'll preface this by saying that I've found a lot to admire in this series so far. The additional material, from the short tales on the cover pages, to the backup stories, to the instructional points along the interior spine, has ensured there's a wealth of information being delivered to help create a distinctive environment for the narrative to exist within. But, for all the positives, there is one problem I have that is probably going to result in me dropping the title at the end of the first arc, and that problem is my lack of emotional connection to the main storyline. It's cleverly constructed and Kindt's distinctive, unpolished art makes it a unique visual proposition, but while I can appreciate the talent and creativity in evidence, I just haven't been hooked in like some of my colleagues have. Mind MGMT has my admiration but, unfortunately, not my devotion. 6/10

1 comment:

Andy C said...

Interesting reviews of Mind MGMT guys. I've been reading it and loved #1. I have absolutely no complaints about subsequent issues, but I do find myself respecting it more than enjoying it. Like Matt C, I am likely to drop it at the end of the current arc (unless #6 leaves me 'unable' to....)