11 Nov 2012

Mini Reviews 11/11/2012

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.

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Guru eFX
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I came to the world of Tony Stark back around 2007 when the Extremis can of worms had already been opened to the elements by Warren Ellis, and Tony Stark - as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D at that time - was attempting to screw the lid back on despite Maya Hansen’s good and the Mandarin’s less-than good motives trying to keep that from happening. For a reasonable period it was just Extremis, Extremis, Extremis and while it worked I was kinda glad to see the back of it when Fraction waded in and made the world of Tony Stark his own, reseting the tables to the man in the machine model rather than the other way around. I’d hoped that Marvel NOW!, with all its bluster and promise, might offer up a chance to throw out a little originality off the back of Fraction’s sterling work, but instead this debut issue seems to show that the publisher is keen on unnecessarily bolstering the Marvel coffers with the upcoming second live action sequel due out next year. So Tony’s back from space, Resilient is still chugging along, but that’s not enough of a challenge for Tony any more and, oops, Extremis - the nano-level sci-fi macguffin we’ll all hear about in 2013 - is on the rampage once again. It doesn’t really sound like much has changed, it comes across as a little tired and perhaps that’s meant to be the point. I’m sure Gillen’s high concept work will kick in a little further down the line once the familiarisation arc (read: ‘New Reader Conscription Effort’) is out of the way and he can really cut loose. So for now it’s a case of sit by and wait for the epic stuff to start. I did like how he set out Tony’s perspective of the world around him and he certainly nails the confidence - though I’d perhaps have preferred a little more of the humility that we’d seen in him recently. Gillen evidently gets Tony’s techie intellect as well and that’s where I’m sure he’s the writer with the best fit. Greg Land is still an enigma to me; I don’t understand how an artist can deliver such clean and breathtaking action yet can only manage to draw three types of expression on his characters - his depiction of the suit is superb yet EVERY woman shown must be a clone of only a dozen originals! So it’s a steady effort, not great, and there’s not a great deal of WOW! for this Marvel NOW! effort. Doesn’t mean that I’m not confident that the long game will be worth sticking around for though!  6/10

Matt C: Another Marvel NOW! relaunch with a new creative team taking the reigns, but if you were expecting a dramatic shake up in the world of Tony Stark then you’d be mistaken.  Gillen presents us with his version of Stark and to be honest, he’s not a heck of lot different to Matt Fraction’s version. There are pros and cons to this: you obviously don’t want a new writer coming in, throwing everything before out the window and doing something controversial purely to make a splash, but on the other hand you want a new writer to make the character their own and repackage the mythos in a way that has it feeling fresh and relevant. There’s not a strong indication that Gillen’s going to take Iron Man into particularly new territory, but I’d be a fool to dismiss him so quickly based on what he did in the Asgardian realm on Thor (rocky start that developed into something special) and then Journey Into Mystery (awesome all the whole way through). I’m prepared to stick around to see what Gillen has up his sleeve, even though I have a love/hate thing going on with Greg Land’s art. It’s very pretty to look at, and the photorealism in the sequences with the Iron Man suit is really effective, but there’s that same shit-eating grin that gets slapped on various characters’ faces and it's just plain irritating. It’s not enough of distraction to put me off, and I’ll certainly be back for round two. 7/10

James R: Marvel's NOW! revolution turns to ol' Shellhead this week, with a new start for Tony Stark. Well, I say 'new', but there won't be anything in this book that surprises those of us familiar with the exploits of Iron Man - but that's no bad thing. I stopped reading the Matt Fraction run as it felt incredibly repetitive to me, with the writer not quite building on the strength of his first few arcs. When Marvel announced that Kieron Gillen would be taking over the reigns, I was keen to see what he could do as his work on Uncanny X-Men was inspired at times. Even though Gillen doesn't reinvent the wheel in this first issue, he shows that he's got a great handle on Stark, and there's certainly a lot of potential here. Gillen turns to Warren Ellis' brilliant 'Extremis' arc for the core of the plot, and the issue hit a lot of the right notes. The only thing I wasn't knocked out by was Greg Land's art - it always looks a little too posed and polished for my tastes, and he draws Tony with a frankly terrifying overbite in the early pages of the issue! It's not awful by any means (he does a good job with the armour sequences) but it's the one factor that holds the book back a little for me. A fine restart then, and I hope Gillen's wild inventiveness throws Iron Man a few curveballs.  8/10

Writer: David Hine
Art: Doug Braithwaite & Ulises Arreola
Image $3.50

Stewart R: If I’m honest here I’m not quite sure what to make of this latest Image #1 - I will say that I enjoyed my first read through of Storm Dogs with its futuristic setting on a far flung human outpost and the setup of a greater mystery behind a spate of recent murders that have befallen the population of Grievance. Hine puts a lot of the page count to providing us with a high level background for those who dwell upon Amaranth’s surface and the law-enforcers who find themselves visiting for an undesignated period - there’s quite a wide cast on first glance with no obvious protagonist or lead, but he gives us just enough to help us pick out the individual characters for future reference as the mysterious plot will inevitably unfold. And it’s with certain elements of the plot - and with some of Mr Braithwaite’s depiction of the events and his design work - that my initial impression comes just a tiny bit unstuck. With no intention I’m sure, much of Storm Dogs’ first issue appears to be a distinctive cross between Firefly, Prometheus and Avatar and I was a little surprised to find myself drawing those comparisons so quickly without much prompting. Such a realisation hasn’t detracted a great deal from this debut as it is a fine opening, but I will be hoping that Storm Dogs manages to shrug off my comparisons quickly and make its own distinctive mark.  7/10

Matt C: If you’ve read or seen enough sci-fi tales there’ll be plenty of elements you’ll recognise in Storm Dogs, but you’ll quickly notice that those elements are present because Hine knows they’re ones that work, and placing them within the imaginative future he’s concocted with Braithwaite means that this series has some serious potential. Essentially it’s a detective story with a team being sent to what one of the inhabitants calls “the ass end of nowhere” to investigate some suspicious deaths. Interesting characters in an abrasive environment with some gorgeous art from Braithwaite and judicious colouring choices from Arreola – what’s not to like? A really strong start. 8/10

Writers: Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn
Art: Tony Moore & Val Staples
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I’ve never been particularly fussed with Deadpool, certainly not to the point where I’d consider buying a monthly title with his name on the front. Cameo appearances were as far as I was interested in going, but I have to say I found myself significantly warming to the character during his time in Uncanny X-Force, and when this new #1 appeared on the horizon, with its ridiculous but hilarious premise, I felt it needed to be given the opportunity to convince me of its worth. And convince me it has! Dead presidents are being resurrected via arcane necromancy, and it quickly becomes clear after an incident with Captain America (inspiring the brilliant Daily Bugle headline “Cap Snaps In Scrap: Decapitain America Stars In Truman Show”) that having high profile superheroes taking on beloved ex-leaders of the free world isn’t what the people of America really want to see. Enter Deadpool, who’s secretly employed by SHIELD to put an end to the madness in his own inimitable style. Some of the jokes could have used a bit more work to tighten them up, but overall the energetically zany wit Duggan and Posehn bring to the table, the impressively detailed, electric art from Moore, and the astute colour schemes utilized by Staples, keeps everything afloat rather marvellously. It’s early days, but if everyone involved can sustain this level of infectious lunacy then Deadpool will cement its place on my pull-list. 8/10

Writer: Simon Furman
Art: Andrew Wildman, Stephen Baskerville & John-Paul Bove
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: A with a mighty KA-RUNCH! so many childhoods of the 1980s come crashing together with the reading habits of their 21st Century lives as the two titanic figures of the Transformers Universe go head-to-head for potentially the last time! When Furman came back to this title after the near-20 year hiatus, he said that this was going to be him writing stories that would properly give some sense of closure to the broad tales of war that we’d been witness to over months and weeks (depending on your location either side of the Atlantic) during the 1980s.  Well, he’s certainly not skimped on the death count with several familiar and loved faces reduced to metallic scrap through the course of only a handful of issues so far and with such a power-packing punch up this time it’s clear quite early on that Prime and Megatron are really playing for keeps. Andrew Wildman and Stephen Baskerville are definitely back into the swing of things from their pencil and inking standpoint, and sections of this effort easily rival their best work on the old series. It’s no easy feat to make a robot fight resonate with the destruction and force that would be unleashed upon two such combatants comprised of alloy shells and chasis, gyros and gizmos, yet every impact, swipe or grapple carries with it the heavy importance of this battle’s final outcome. All the while the carnage is unfolding on Earth we can see all of the other wheels Furman is starting to set in motion on Cybertron and in other corners of the Universe, and even after something of a tentpole issue like this it’s plain to see that there’s far more ammunition for the cannon of awesome he’s firing here at the moment!  8/10

Writer: China Mieville
Art: David Lapham, Tanya Horie & Richard Horie
DC $2.99

James R: In a week with a lot of high-profile releases, Dial H quietly stakes a claim to be the smartest book of the week. After the climax to the first arc, this issue sees Nelson and Manteau sitting indoors. Yep, there's no world-ending threats, no huge twists - just brilliant character interplay. In TV terms, this is what's known as a 'bottle episode', with all the action taking place in one room or location, and Mieville does a great job in developing the world of Dial H. He discusses the danger of subsuming your personality into that of a potentially random hero - what happens when the person you change into is infinitely greater than yourself? How do you adjust afterwards? Mieville also demonstrates his keen eye for comedy as Manteau shows Nelson her album of characters that if dialled, she refuses to go out as - we're fortunately left to imagine just what Captain Priapus looks like! The bonus here was that the issue was illustrated by David Lapham. In recent years Lapham has turned to writing more than drawing (most noticeably in the Crossed books) but I was a fan of his Stray Bullets series, and it was great to see him turn in such great work here. I can imagine that Dial H might bewilder some readers, but if you're looking for a more cerebral read, you should certainly consider giving this book a call.  9/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
Image $3.99

Matt C: One day I'll get around to paying a visit to Thought Bubble, the annual event in Leeds that has rather rapidly become one of the UK's premier comics conventions (and many make a strong case for it being the best). The distance and expense involved are the factors that have prevented me going before, especially at this time of year when the costly festive season is almost upon us (kids need toys, you know!). At some point in the future I’ll save my pennies and make my way up there, but sadly this year it'll have to go ahead without me, even though a guestlist that features the likes of Jason Aaron, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and Fiona Staples makes me insanely jealous! Fortunately there is a consolation of sorts in the form of this second edition of the anthology title released to coincide with the event. It features a bunch of creators you will have heard of (Ellis, Staples, Sean Phillips, friend of the PCG Boo Cook) and a bunch you won't have heard of (unless you're their mum) but all of them deliver arresting shorts that serve to show just how much boundless creativity there is in the industry. It's not the same as being at Thought Bubble in person, but until the year I finally get up there, this is more than sufficient to tide me over. 9/10

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

James R: I'm not a man who cries easily - I don't say that as a macho boast, I'm just not a man who wells up very often. So, if I do find myself wiping away a tear, then I've either had some exceptional life experience, or I've just been hit hard by a work of art. The penultimate issue of Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth is certainly in the latter category. Ever since the start of the 'Wild Game' arc, I've expressed the fear that after such a magnificent series, Lemire might not deliver a fitting finale. I shouldn't have worried! Reading this issue gave me virtually everything I love about comics - an emotional payoff that comes from watching these characters grow and develop over the years twinned with unique art. I don't want to spoil this issue in any way, but the sequence where Jeppard fights off Abbot's hounds which was juxtaposed with flashbacks from the previous 38 instalments was sublime. Lemire then builds to a climax that was equal parts horrifying, moving and exhilarating. At the end I felt drained but in awe of Lemire as a storyteller. There has not been a single poor issue in this entire run, and now all that's left is for #40 to act as a coda to this incredible series. I can't wait to see how it all wraps up, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I might be wiping away another couple of tears. Sweet Tooth is comics at their very best, and its end will leave an enormous hole in my pull-list. 10/10

Matt C: It was somewhat inevitable that things would play out this way. In other words, you didn’t need  a crystal ball to see how certain elements of the plot would get resolved. This is not a criticism because, while Lemire has gone down a more classical redemption route for his story structure, he’s done so in such a powerful, affecting manner that even though you could see what was coming it still manages to pack a hefty emotional punch. As we’ve mentioned here on numerous occasions, the key factor that lends Lemire’s art style its potency is the way he renders his character’s eyes, capturing the anger, the wonder, the sadness, the joy of every situation with real clarity. With one more issue to go, I think it’s now  safe to say with confidence that Vertigo will have yet another classic series to add to their library. 9/10

Stewart R: What a penultimate issue this turned out to be! Throughout his post-apocalyptic epic, Lemire has kept plucking away at the audiences' heartstrings, shocking them with brutality at odd moments and lingering with the slow passing of fading death on others. Tapering the plot towards a raging, emotional climax was always likely to be the way Lemire was going to go and there’s definitely enough in these 21 pages to stir even the most cold of hearts and dry of eyes. I think one of the secrets to Lemire’s success with Sweet Tooth has been his keen ability to depict characters who continue to fight on in the face of sheer hopelessness that confronts them every day. Their defiance in the face of the odds, to possibly be able to provide that one small window of opportunity or glimmer of hope from all of the sweat, tears and bloodletting, makes you fight along every step of the way with this engrossing cast of adults and children. While we have often praised Lemire here for his writing ability on Sweet Tooth we don’t always highlight his skill with pencil and ink, and as we close in on the finale it’s terrific to see how far his artistic skills have come since those tentative early days with Gus in his forest home some three years ago. One particular double-page that transposes a journey through one character’s later life against the life-and-death struggle they find themselves in at the present time is masterfully handled and encapsulates a host of different emotions that have been the hallmark of this superb series. Start saving your pennies for the collected/compendium edition now guys!  9/10

Writer: Ian Brill
Art: Joshua Covey, Justin Stewart, Vladimir Popov & Zack Sterling
BOOM! Studios $1.00

Matt C: The first issue of a new series for only a dollar? Got to be worth a look, right? You’d think, but even at such an appealing price this is probably something you’ll want to skip. Even though it features two sassy, sexy women in the lead (the ‘Freelancers’ of the title, hired to fix ‘problems’ for rich folk) it’s clearly come from the mind of a man (or men) as it pretty much presents the heroines (raised in a kung fu orphanage, no less) as something 13 year-old boys would fantasise about, ie they have no basis in reality. Which isn’t a problem as such, everyone needs a little fantasy in their lives, but when we get around to a gratuitous bra shot you can kind of tell what audience the creators are pitching for. And it’s certainly not me. I think I prefer my female characters to not conform to some backwards stereotypes, exhibit at least some depth and not be presented quite so garishly. You may disagree, in which case you might find something worthwhile in Freelancers #1, but if I were a betting man I’d say the odds are pretty low that you will. 4/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Phil Noto & Frank Martin Jr.
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Through all of the chop-socky action, slice and dicing disembowelments and Wade Wilson having pretty much most of his bodily fluids wrenched from him at some point over the course, this title has remained incredibly engaging, relevant and well-revered thanks to the fine grasp of dialogue and characterisation that Rick Remender has. A few years back I really wouldn’t have considered a reasonably well tempered (considering the situation) tet-a-tet between the incredibly hairy, estranged father and son combo of Logan and Daken to be much of a possibility, yet in Remender’s world this was always on the cards from the moment we saw the new Brotherhood waltz onto the page.  It’s time once again for the finger of blame to be pointed in Wolverine’s face and I really did enjoy seeing how both of these men vent their regrets in a mostly calm and reserved environment with less of the screaming and bellowing that can occasionally ‘tarnish’ their encounters. The continued corruption of Evan remains a tense highlight of ‘The Final Execution’ arc and Remender has done a tremendous job of making Deadpool an important voice in the chaos. Unfortunately Betsy’s psychic battleground clash with the Shadow King doesn’t quite carry the resonance that her struggles earlier in this title packed, but as far as the overall picture goes this is another example of why Uncanny X-Force has made it onto the Paradoscars shortlist for Best Ongoing Title!  9/10

1 comment:

Andy C said...

Sweet Tooth and Uncanny X-Force were both corkers. Fact! Can't wait for their concluding issues...

Harvest was also a major highlight for me last week. A great mini-series racing towards a conclusion which I'm sure won't be pleasant.

Normally about this time I get depressed that the last issue will fail to deliver but I'm convinced all three titles will do it in style.

A great time to be reading comics.....and big gaps to fill.