14 Oct 2012

Mini Reviews 14/10/2012

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: Rick Remender
Art: John Cassaday & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I had high expectations for this issue; I could say possibly too high based on the talent involved, but then I’ve come to books before expecting a lot and found they delivered, so I’m just going to have chalk it up as underwhelming. It’s not a write-off by any means, but it didn’t come together in the way I hoped it would. Firstly, we have Charles Xavier’s funeral to deal with, and while this is a necessity of sorts, it did get bogged down by a bit too much “humans hate and fear us” whinging – I could have gone along with it if it soared afterwards, but there was a disjointedness in evidence (witness how a not especially successful recruitment of Havok by Cap and Thor melds into a battle scene where any reluctance to join has seemingly disappeared). I realise a lot of this is all about laying the groundwork for the formation of this new team, but it felt like it needed to get to the point a lot sooner. But, even though I was far from blown away, I still have confidence that this will shape up into an essential monthly title. Cassaday’s a class act, and when Remender is on a roll, his dialogue sings. I’ve also got to take my hat off for what seems like an utterly bonkers but brilliantly audacious (in that it’s the kind of thing that was de rigueur in the ‘60s rather than now) scheme hatched by the supervillain of the piece (and you’ll already know who it is from the advance solicitations that have been plastered across the web recently).  It’s not a particularly reassuring beginning when taken as a whole, but there are enough elements that suggest the only way is up. 6/10

James R: What's not to like? In case you didn't know, let's just look at the talent roster here - Rick Remender, the shining talent behind Uncanny X-Force, and John Cassaday, who is John Cassaday, dammit! As a result, I opened this issue expecting greatness. I wasn't disappointed, but I have to say I wasn't blown away either. If this book is the standard bearer for Marvel attempting to make their books more cinematic, it definitely came across. It reads like the first 20 minutes of a big budget movie - putting the group together, establishing the danger, and a quick action sequence. It's all good fun - we get Wolverine reflecting on the death of Xavier, we learn that Thor likes a latte (Zounds!) and that Rick Remender knows exactly how to write the Red Skull (wild-eyed, crackpot and ranting.) I don't have to waste many words telling you how it looks - it's Cassaday and Laura Martin, and therefore it's superb! It will take a few more issues to see how this team gels - with Uncanny X-Force there was magic from the start, but here it might take a little longer. So, it's an obvious addition to my pull-list - this issue might not have ripped up the rulebook, but it certainly promises some magnificence to come. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo
DC $3.99

Tom P: Now this is more like it - Snyder's Batman at its best. After being underwhelmed by #0 I was blown away by this. Straight away I was impressed with the mask cover, its bold design made an instant impression. Issue #13 is not only a great superhero comic, it’s a brilliant piece of horror. I love that it starts with Jim Gordon having a not so secret smoke in his last hide out which has been rumbled. After a tense sequence in pitch black at the very heart of the G.C.P.D, the Joker suggests he has been watching the 'Commish' for quite some time, hiding under his bed at night as Gordon slept. I find that terrifying, it's a primal fear, something that taps into that childhood nightmare of the boogieman in the darkness. Everywhere you think you're safe he can at get you. That's a strong theme in this issue, that you can't hide. Capullo's illustration is outstanding; it's full of great details, small dark glimpses of a highly intelligent, ruthless and obsessed madman. He's back and he's more deadly than ever. The backup also marks the welcome return of Jock. It focuses on a tight creepy psychodrama. It's a tense piece of exploitation with flawless execution. Snyder is a master of horror - from American Vampire to Severed, he's proved it. Believe the hype - this is a prime example of why you should be reading DC comics. I for one am excited Snyder going to write Superman and has a new Vertigo book on the way. He's DC hottest talent. In a week I felt sure Marvel would blot out every other book on the stand with Uncanny Avengers (and it was awesome to read such a strong first issue from Cassaday and Remender) this kicked my ass. 10/10

Matt C: I'm not particularly happy that we're launching into another multi-title Bat-event so swiftly after ‘Night Of The Owls' but I have to say I am very happy with the way this issue of Batman has turned out, providing further proof that this is arguably (but really, who'll argue against it?) the best book of the New 52 reboot, and one of only three DC Universe titles I continue to pick up. It succeeds so well because of its presentation of the Joker, not as the flamboyant psychopath of yore, but something entirely more sinister, a deranged monster lurking in the shadows who can strike out of the darkness when least expected. This is an approach that screams 'horror' more than 'superheroes', but if you look at the kind of things Snyder's been writing - Severed, American Vampire and the 'Black Mirror' arc in Detective in particular - you can see he excels in this area. Capullo's evocative illustrations continue to go from strength to strength, from the way he creates a claustrophobic atmosphere when the Clown Prince enters the police station, to the detail he brings to each panel (look at the rain-drenched brilliance of the first page). If there was one thing that bugged me, it was that a number of characters who began sentences with the word "Hell" - okay, it's only a small thing, but once you notice it you can't stop spotting every instance, and it kind of takes the dialogue into the realms of formula rather than realism. As I say, it's a small thing and aside from that - and the unnecessary 'stunt' cover - this is easily head and shoulders above every other Bat-title, and pretty much every other superhero book DC are putting out too. 8/10

James R: If I didn't know these things were planned months in advance, I'd be tempted to say that Scott Snyder's opening to his Joker epic 'Death of the Family' is his retort to our own Tom P's judgement on issue #0! Let there be no doubt that this is not only Batman done right, it's Batman done brilliantly. Snyder has used the Joker before - back during his exceptional tenure on Detective Comics he made a creepy cameo - but now he is front and centre, and going toe-to-toe with the Dark Knight. This issue is an extended tease, as Batman learns that the Joker has returned to Gotham after a year's absence, but his target is a mystery; the Joker remains on the periphery of the issue - out of sight - but his malevolent presence is tangible. Snyder writes him expertly - his exchange with Commissioner Gordon is one of the creepiest things I've read in comics. The tried and trusted art team of Capullo and Glapion produce some great work here - the dark landscape that you'd expect for Gotham mixed with the horror that you'd expect from Batman's nemesis. A masterclass in modern comics storytelling from first page to last, and a terrific first chapter to Snyder's second Bat-event this year. The rumours of Snyder taking on writing duties for Superman have now been confirmed, and if he brings the same quality to the Man of Steel as he does to the Dark Knight, we'll be in for a huge treat.  As it is, I'm delighted that he's continuing to produce the magic in Gotham. 9/10

Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III, Jon Conkling & Michael DeVito
Th3rd World Studios $3.99

Matt C: The fourth Stuff Of Legend miniseries commences, almost making you wish there wasn’t such a wait between each volume if it wasn’t abundantly clear that the craft that goes into each issue isn’t something that can be rushed. Although featured in this mini’s title, the Toy Collector isn’t a central presence at this point, sidelined by a cast we’ve become more connected with as the story’s rolled on, but you do get a definite sense – book title aside – that his importance will grow in this particular arc. As always, The Stuff Of Legend takes all the elements of children’s fairytales but refuses to treat them in a childish manner, and if you’re clued up to this kind of thing, you’ll know that’s an integral factor to all those fairytales that have really stood the test of time. The trick is to never speak down to your audience, and it's a trap that Raicht and Smith have avoided with ease. Wilson III’s art is always special, densely detail panels filled with depth and emotion, effective enough to make you really believe in these characters as three-dimensional creations and not think of them as a bunch of fluff-filled toys dallying in a cupboard. The Stuff Of Legend has always been an eminently classy production and this mini looks like it will continue the trend. 8/10

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

James R: After last month's opening issue - which I found to be ignorant of the original's ethos and philosophy - this second instalment is a triumph, and I can't help but think that if it had started with this issue it would read much better. This month Dr. Manhattan acts as a quantum superposition (stay with me here!).  Having travelled back to the moment of his creation, he begins to observe parallel universes that develop as a result of his escape from the Intrinsic Field chamber. It's a magnificent issue, and Straczynski does a great job of not only explaining quantum physics but in developing and showing the possible worlds and futures. This is also made possible by the magnificent pencils of Adam Hughes. I've said before that I'm a huge fan of his covers work, but his interior art here is sublime, a treat for the eyes. I've been harsh on Straczynski's contributions to Before Watchmen thus far - I think his interpretation of the original has been wide of the mark - but credit where due, this shows what he is capable of: a magnificent comic that augments Watchmen rather than tainting it. This would have easily been book of the week if it hadn't been such an extraordinary Wednesday on my pull-list - as it is, I highly recommend you take a look, and I'm now looking forward to the next issue with excitement rather than trepidation. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Stegman & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The second “Final Issue” of Fantastic Four Hickman’s been involved in, the difference this time being that the writer’s ending his impressive run on the title. During the first few pages it did start to seem like he was about to manoeuvre past a lot of the plot threads he’s had on the go by focusing on Doom’s whereabouts, but it’s a little late to start doubting Hickman, and of course he takes things in a direction that, while not dealing with every ball he set in motion (this isn’t really the final issue of Fantastic Four, after all), ties things up as much as they needed to be to allow another writer to take over, and does so in a way that’s hard to criticise. In his backup mini essay, he hits on exactly why his run on the book has been so well received: it’s all about family. Fantastic Four has never been a regular superhero title – these aren’t people who’ve banded together for a common cause, they’re together because they’re bonded by something entirely primal: love. Understanding that is the first step towards successfully creating adventures for Marvel’s First Family, and it was obvious that Hickman got that straight away, which allowed him to build up what we may very well look back on as being one of the premiere runs on the title by a writer since it first proclaimed itself as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”. 8/10

Writer: Sean Murphy
Art: Sean Murphy
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Or, 'Anarchy in the USA'! This month, Sean Murphy's cloned second coming begins to come of age, and as you'd expect of a teenager, he finds that the world he has inherited is not to his liking. Chris discovers there’s a world beyond the controlled walls of the J2 compound and Rick Slate, and so begins to assume the mantle of Punk Rock Jesus (thanks in part to Thomas' record collection). Murphy rams his pages with ideas and images - every page is full of invention or action - and I'm hugely impressed with how he juxtaposes Chris' tale with Thomas' troubled past. A comic that can fit in Irish history, the development of science and an armed assault in 28 pages has to be saluted and recommended to the rafters. We're currently putting the short list together for the Paradox Oscars 2012 - I'll be amazed if this remarkable series and its creator don't feature prominently. 9/10

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

James R: The cover to this issue makes it look as if this is just another tie-in to Marvels AVX event, but that undersells it horribly. It's far more than that, and delivers a jaw-dropping finale that's better than any moment in Marvel's big crossover. This is the 'season finale' to the first year of Jason Aaron's X-book. Apart from the Doop issue, I can't think of a weak moment in the first 18 issues, and this instalment demonstrates all of the attributes that have made the series such a success for me. As the school struggles on against the backdrop of the Phoenix conflict, there's clearly something up - a number of the characters are acting strangely, and what better way to relieve the pressure than a school dance? It goes without saying that the dance ends up being far from orthodox, and Aaron drops some huge plot surprises on us - a traitor revealed and a death amongst the students that genuinely made me shout "No!" when I read it. Aaron has found exactly the right tone in this book - he continues to fuse the teen drama and school elements with some typically explosive Marvel moments. Best of all, it's funny - despite the darkness there were still three brilliant moments of comedy. After the final page, I should have been crushed - but I was immediately reassured to see the words "The second year begins..." along with a teaser page that suggests Aaron has got plenty more ideas in the tank. As long as he's running this school, I'm not cutting a single class. 9/10 

X-MEN #37
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: David Lopez, Alvaro Lopex & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It was good while it lasted, then. Actually, scratch that – it was bloody great while it lasted! Brian Wood’s stint on X-Men may have been a short one, but it’s the kind of run that will linger on in the memory as a perfect example of how X-books should be done. Yeah, Uncanny X-Force and Wolverine & The X-Men are great, but this one still seemed to stick out as something that not necessarily broke the mould but reformed into a decidedly adult take on the world of mutantdom. So maybe we’re dealing with characters that fly and shoot laser beams out of their eyes, but Wood offers conclusive proof that you can take those characters and still tell grown up, though-provoking stories that are filled with relatable moments of emotion. His scripts were pretty much guaranteed to be smart but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Lopez and Lopez were the guys needed to really bring his words to life. There’s a lot more talking than action in this issue but they still manage to make it feel indomitable, the expression on the character’s faces arguably saying far more visually than a well-placed sock to the jaw could. With this creative team gone after this issue there’s probably no surprises in saying I am too. 8/10


Stewart R said...

Terrific stuff guys! I'm way behind in my reading this week and so I'm now looking forward to delving into the titles you've mentioned here on the plane ride home!

Matt Clark said...

What the heck have you been up to that you couldn't read comics?? ;)