4 Nov 2012

Mini Reviews 04/11/2012

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.

BEDLAM #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Riley Rossmo
Image $3.50


Stewart R: The first thing you notice is the physical weight of this debut issue - it’s a tasty fat thing for a monthly periodical and when you check the generous price you then take a little look inside to see how many adverts might be lurking within. Well good ladies and gentlemen, I can prevent your wasted effort there by reporting that Bedlam #1 is filled, cover to glorious cover, with nought but an impeccable and enthralling read.  While there are certainly some questions and mysteries lingering at the end of the first read through I was captivated by Spencer’s script as he introduces us to the bloodied world of the villainous Madder Red, a man obsessed with having society dissect the human condition via visceral prompting through the use of murderous extreme measures. There’s something running through the entire issue that does have me reminiscing on the work of Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight with Madder Red walking a similar line to that of the Joker, but there is definitely enough in Spencer’s plotting and script to keep this a very separate entity. The main character of the piece cuts quite the haunting figure thanks to Rossmo’s terrific design work - the jagged teeth and deep red eyes of his mask always taunting, always knowing - which compliments Spencer’s psychological-revolutionary dialogue superbly. I know we here at the PCG keep banging on and on about Image’s increased policy of throwing more and more new and unique material at a possibly oversaturated audience, but by the gods my pull-list is covered with ‘sticky’ things and this is yet another added to the list.  9/10

Matt C: The pitch, in a nutshell, is what if the Joker stopped being a homicidal maniac and 'got better'. It sounds like the kind of high concept that Mark Millar would have his hand in, but reading this first issue it doesn't appear to be quite as clear cut as that pitch would have you believe. The Joker analog here is Madder Red, a lunatic who employs a level of violence regular Batman books would never get away with (the version of the Dark Knight her is called The First, but he's only a brief presence at this stage). There's an effective undercurrent of creepiness running through the book that's bolstered by Rossmo's frenetic art style and his use of red in the otherwise black and white flashbacks really amplifies the psychosis on display. While Spencer's script is smart and daring, there is a fuzziness to some of the chronology that distracts a little but not to an extent that it detracts from the overall effect of a successfully disturbing read. At 48 pages it also unquestionably offers value for money, so if you like seeing audacious spins on iconic characters then this is definitely a tale with potential, one that’s worth investigation. 7/10 

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #19
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99
 
James R: I know we seldom talk sports here at the PCG, but on this occasion there's an analogy that fits. Professional sportsmen & women talk about being in 'the zone', a level of performance when your every act is brilliant yet effortless. Suffice to say Jason Aaron is absolutely in the zone on this book. After the dramatic events of last issue - a huge cliffhanger that marked the end of 'Year One', the story is even more accomplished this time out. Aaron masterfully balances three separate tales; Wolverine and Rachel Grey on the trail of the new Hellfire Club, Kitty's attempt to bring in some new teachers to the school ,and Beast's attempts to save Broo's life. As if this wasn't enough, Aaron shows the humour that has been one of the hallmarks of this title - Kitty's teaching candidates are all superb - whilst still finding time to add moments of real poignancy. These days, we often applaud comics for being 'cinematic' or 'mature' reflections on a particular character, but here Aaron is showing that comics don't need to be like a movie or a TV show as he uses every one of the twenty pages to the fullest and does things no other medium can accomplish. This book has also been blessed with great art teams from the first issue - Bachalo & Molina always do great work - but I think Nick Bradshaw has grown into its definitive penciller, and he has a ball drawing some unexpected faces from the Marvel Universe. I've said before that I was hugely relieved that Wolverine & The X-Men has  survived the Marvel NOW! cull, and I'm now happy to say that ,with Uncanny X-Force coming to an end, it’s the best book the publisher are putting out. Let's hope Aaron stays in the zone for a long time to come. 9/10

WINTER SOLDIER #12
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice, Brian Thies & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99
 

Stewart R: Brubaker’s tales of Bucky Barnes really do make me a conflicted man sometimes and I mean that in the best possible way. While the continued turmoil and torture that our hero is forced to go through time and time again since he was reborn from the shadows of his Winter Soldier life makes you long for an end to his suffering  it doesn’t half make for a read that you never want to end. ‘Widow Hunt’ just keeps the downward spiral flowing faster and faster as Bucky’s love, loyalty and guilt over losing the Black Widow to the machinations of Leo Novokov drives him to further extremes which could threaten to lose just who he is as well as everything he’s attempting to rescue and protect. Brubaker has done a tremendous job of showing a world of heroics in the Marvel Universe where everything really is on a knife edge and our heroes are constantly on the chase or back foot - it seems rare today to have such a prolonged sense of unease and uncertainty from a Marvel title and that’s what makes it stand out from the crowd. Visually this is also one of the premier titles in the big M’s cannon and Butch Guice, Brian Theis and Bettie Breitweiser well and truly put in a performance here of award-worthy levels; as Bucky’s predicament has grown grimmer, the art team have cloaked this comic in an atmosphere heavy on brooding menace. Years from now I’m sure we’ll be looking back on this and recounting it as a the best non-Captain America Captain America book we’ve ever read. 9/10

CBLDF PRESENTS LIBERTY ANNUAL 2012
Writers: Various
Art: Various
Image $4.99


Matt C: For those not in the know, the Comic Book Legal Defense fund is a non-profit organization set up in 1986 to “provide legal aid, education, and advocacy to protect the First Amendment rights of the readers, creators, retailers, publishers, and librarians of comics, manga, and graphic novels.” Basically, if anyone gets in hot water with law over making, selling or even reading comics books, the CBLDF are on hand to assist them. To them (as it should be for us all) censorship is bad and freedom of expression is good. This yearly anthology title returns with a plethora of “hot talent” (as they say) offering a succession of short stories all centred around the idea of freedom, with proceeds from the sale of the book going directly to the CBLDF. So we get the likes of Jonathan Hickman, Jim McCann and Howard Chaykin delivering one-off vignettes , while others offer short tales tied into existing properties – there’s a Walking Dead six-pager from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, a Marineman/Hip Flask crossover from Richard Starkings and Ian Churchill, and so on. Some of it works (the highlight being ‘Last Rights’ by James Asmus and Takeshi Miyazawa), some of it sees the point being made with a lack of subtlety, but as it’s all for such a great cause it would feel churlish to pick anyone out for criticism. Essentially, it hammers home how important freedom of creativity is in this medium we love so much and that we should be grateful that an organization exists to stand up for those who are unjustly accused and may not have the resources to defend themselves. 8/10

SWAMP THING ANNUAL #1
Writers: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art: Becky Cloonan & Tony Avina
DC $4.99


James R: I've been a staunch defender of this title since it's relaunch - I think it's a good platform for Scott Snyder to flex his horror muscles while at the same time investing the book with his narrative flair, but I have to be honest and say that this is the first issue of Swamp Thing that you can easily live without. Set within Rotworld, the Parliament of Trees tell Alec that his bond with Abigail Arcane started much longer ago than he may have thought... cue a flashback to Alec Holland's University days and the art of Becky Cloonan. Holland is summoned to the Carpathian Mountains to meet Anton Arcane for the first time, and while investigating a mysterious plant, falls for the ivory-haired Abigail. As a tale, it's okay, it just felt a little superfluous. As a long-time reader of the book, I know Abigail and Alec have a special bond, but even if I were a new reader on board from the relaunch it would have been fairly self-evident. When DC bring out an annual, and up the page count, I hope for a little more ambition. For example, the Parliament of Trees is a plot device that offers centuries of storytelling possibility - I would have liked a self-confined tale from them rather than an Alec Holland story. Becky Cloonan does a fine job on pencils though, and her rendering of the primal power manifested by the Green was great. All told, not a bad comic, just not a particularly essential one.  6/10 

HAPPY #2
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Darick Robertson & Richard P. Clark
Image  $2.99


James R: After a 'wait and see' first issue, Happy is still a little underwhelming. Given how wildly inventive Grant Morrison is as a storyteller, this book feels incredibly familiar to me. When I reviewed this book at the end of September, I said that Grant Morrison was setting up some clich├ęs in order to subvert them later... I may have been wrong in my blind faith! At the end of this instalment (and the halfway point of the story), there's nothing new or unexpected here. Case in point is the poker sequence where Nick Sax uses Happy to gain an advantage on his distasteful opponents - what should be a high-tension scene is merely a retread of every mob poker scene you've ever seen. Happy the Horse is also incredibly flat as a character too, no doubt envisioned by Morrison to be a technicolor contrast to the grit of Sax's world, but it certainly doesn't come across that way. I was hoping that the question of Nick's sanity would be the focus of this series, but after this issue it's clear that the rescue of Hailey is the primary plot concern. Will Nick Sax be able to do it? Sad to say I don't think I can be bothered to find out. 4/10

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1
Writer: Rob Williams
Art: Brad Walker, John Livesay & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $4.99


Stewart R: First I think I’ll review the story and art and leave the major quibble until the last note.  Rob Williams is a writer I want to see more from when it comes to the Marvel Universe; his Iron Age series was a cracking read as was his Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force tie-in (one of the only memorable notes from that event it must be said!). It’s clear that he loves these characters, gets their history, and can bring his own lip-curling style of comedy to his scripts. For this annual he whips out a self-contained Spidey story with some added Fantastic Four-related fun in that time honoured tradition of putting entertainment ahead of ground shaking changes in these yearly releases.  It’s solid stuff as our webbed hero has to deal with bungling criminals, angry New Yorkers, alien technology and a certain rocky hero who may have had his annoyance at poker-debt avoidance artificially pushed over the limit. There’s banter aplenty as there should be and Williams does a fine job of making the petty criminals of the piece actually interesting rather than the usual fist-fodder than they can become. Brad Walker’s turn on art duties is tight indeed and I’ll commend him on capturing all of the incidental carnage that takes place in the background as the webbed-wonder tries to track down the source of the problem. And so while we’re talking of problems...  $4.99??  Are you having a laugh Marvel?  Don’t get me wrong, the Willaims/Walker story is a solid and worthy 8/10 effort but there’s unfortunately no way in this day and age that I would tell people to shell out that much for 26 pages of comic unless they drove a gold car and threw out dollar bills to crowds like Jack Nicholson’s Joker.  It’s a shame really as the creators have done a damn fine job.

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