18 Nov 2012

Mini Reviews 18/11/2012

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.

Also, Matt C's New Mutants Project begins this week.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Esad Ribic & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Wow. I had fairly high hopes for this debut issue based on the talent involved, but this managed to obliterate them all with a well-placed bolt of lightning. Encompassing the Odinson’s cavalier past, his heroic present and his embittered future within just 20 crammed pages of heroic brilliance, Aaron has shown himself to be one of the most versatile writers working in the mainstream. To go from Scalped to Wolverine & The X-Men to this, and retain the same level of passion and quality, is quite some feat. Obviously Wolverine & The X-Men operates in the same ballpark to this book, but their differences are instantly apparent once you hit the first page. This is an epic melding of mythology, superheroism and science fiction that acknowledges the characters past but sets a course for a potentially momentous future. Aaron’s script gives the art team the opportunity to really fire on all cylinders, creating imagery that is majestic, electrifying and often breathtaking.  The silent, full-page image of butchered space gods is both wonderful and horrifying, and shows both Ribic and White at the height of their creative powers (and if you enjoyed the visual aesthetic in Uncanny X-Force then you’ll really go for this). Thor fans take note: this is, hands down, the best book of the Marvel NOW! relaunch so far, and even though we’ve still got a few more titles in the pipeline they’ll have a hell of a job of getting close to matching this. 10/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
DC $3.99

James R: DC's ‘A-team’ continue to show that when it comes to Batman, they can do little wrong. With the second issue of Death of the Family, Batman comes face to (detached) face with the Joker once again, but with this chapter it's a confrontation that crackles with a menace that we've not seen for a long time. Part of the joy of the Dark Knight as a character is his indefatigable nature - you know that he never surrenders and can get out of the tightest of corners, but with Snyder's rendering of the character this is matched by a certain vulnerability. As Batman encounters the Joker there is the real feeling that it's the Joker who is in control of the situation and all Batman can do is react. Overall, this book is a slow build - a cursory flick through will show you not a whole lot of action and many talking heads, but it's a credit to the whole creative team that it feels terrifically atmospheric and holds your attention throughout. Snyder has an obvious love for darker tales and stories (as is evidenced from both American Vampire and Severed) and it's great to see him channelling the darkness toward the most famous of comic book enmities. If that's not value enough, there's also a bonus short story in the back illustrated by Jock (yay!) which highlights the relationship between the Joker and the Penguin. A friend of mine said to me today that Batman was the only DC book he now picked up, and to be fair I can see why – it’s consistently head and shoulders above all DC's other superhero titles.  9/10

Writer: Bryan K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Image $2.99

Stewart R:  Some of the best comic book news that we received this year was the early confirmation that this sci-fi space opera title was going to become an ongoing series and after the shortest of breaks it’s back and Vaughan takes the opportunity to give a little insight into Marko’s family life and past.  The flashback to his childhood is terrific, utilising magic once again to highlight what a great blend of science and fantasy this is, and also getting the best from Fiona Staples’ depiction of the horrors of battle. The introduction of Hazel’s grandparents was a terrific moment in #6 and the further interactions between this ramshackle family is just a joy to read as Vaughan positions them all to allow the secrets and reveals to flow and the emotions to run high.  Every character feels distinctive, vibrant and incredibly likeable in their own strange way and I can just tell that he’s going to set us up for some heartbreaking moments by giving us a cast to love and root for in this manner.  I’m in this for the long haul and if we get issue after issue like this then, in all seriousness, we may be mentioning the word masterpiece before too long.  9/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Tonci Zonjic
Image $3.50

Matt C: Who Is Jake Ellis? was a smart, taught and beautifully drawn spy thriller with a unique twist that made for some compelling reading, so it stands to reason that the sequel would be more than worthy of attention.  This proves to be the case overall, although I think it’s safe to say Edmondson isn’t intent on making things easy for his audience, and if you’ve not read the first series then it’s probably advisable that you steer well clear of this as you won’t know what the hell is going on. I have to say that I felt like I was in the same boat at some points during this opening instalment, as the writer is obviously keeping his cards to his chest, drip-feeding information rather than laying on some heavy exposition. And that’s fine, because as seen in the original mini and elsewhere (The Activity, Dancer) few writers can match Edmondson for his grasp on a black-ops/espionage environment. I truly believe things will be clearer as we progess, but for now it’s a case of trying to figure out the larger picture from the few pieces of the slickly illustrated jigsaw puzzle we’re given here. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Marte Garcia
Marvel $3.99

James R: “WHAT HAPPENS NOW?” screams the back cover to this premier issue of (yet another) new X-book. Well, in short the answer is A LOT OF WHAT YOU'VE SEEN BEFORE! I openly admit to being a little hostile toward this book - after getting three incredible X-books working in harmony, I thought Marvel were changing things for the sake of it, and I felt the 'old X-Men from the past come to the future' was a slightly unimaginative concept. That said, there was much to like here, mainly in the form of the art team. Stuart Immonen is a mighty talent (if you haven't read Nextwave, do so immediately!), Von Grawbadger (insert own 'crazy name' joke here) and Marte Gracia turn in an issue that's wonderful to look at, and the art is worth the cover price alone. But what of the script? Well, the last time a book with New X-Men on the cover had an issue one, Grant Morrison started his story with Cyclops in Australia saving a mutant from certain death... guess what happens in this issue? I admit that the situation is different, with Scott Summers now firmly established as a counter-revolutionary to Xavier's dream of mutant and human co-habitation, However, a number of the story beats felt incredibly familiar to me, and things only really engaged me in the final four pages. I am going to stick with the title though - I'm intrigued to see how the younger Cyclops deals with the older version (the superb Looper worked this idea really well in the cinema). Nice to look at and intriguing enough, but I'm hoping Bendis brings more 'New' to this title. 7/10

Matt C: I’ll fess up and say I didn’t actually buy this issue (I read James R’s copy!) as Bendis doing big-budget superheroics has long been a turn-off for me, but I couldn’t deny there was a smidgen of curiosity to see exactly what he had up his sleeve for this new series.  As it happens it’s pretty much a by-the-numbers X-Men comic for the most part, angst-ridden but light on action, until that is Hank McCoy, supposedly one of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe, does something so catastrophically stupid that any suspension of disbelief goes straight out the window.  I won’t get into spoilers, but is that really the best, most logical and least complicated solution he could come up with?! After the far better than expected Avengers Vs X-Men event followed by the effective AVX: Consequences mini, it’s a bit deflating to see it lead into this. The art’s very good but if this is what Bendis came up with as a reason to get the original X-Men back to the future, you can leave me in the past. 4/10

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

Stewart R:  Despite being a series based on religious tones and themes, Punk Rock Jesus had until now been a fairly balanced look at reality television, genetic ethics and the reach of popular culture.  In this penultimate chapter Murphy has Chris’ stand against/war on organised religion taken to another level following his fast rise from media-megastar orphan to punk messiah as he tries to undermine the entire Christian institution.  Things were likely to escalate to this point and I think that Murphy does a decent job of keeping Chris’ just the right side of angsty, head-strong teen by linking it well to his unusual upbringing and evident scarring at the cruel loss of his mother.  Keeping Thomas’ troubled past in plain view also helps to break up the anti-religious rhetoric of the protagonist and deliver another surprising emotional thread in quite a bleak and violent story.  The interesting thing will be just where Murphy leaves it all hanging come the final curtain, but he’s done a fine job of setting things up for one mighty crescendo and there’s no way I’ll be missing it.  8/10

Writer: Joe Harris
Art: Martin Morazzo
Image $2.99

Stewart R:  Not quite what I expected from the first issue and with that I will add that this was more enjoyable than I expected too!  From the odd preview page and the cover I had been anticipating a debut where we followed our protagonist’s first few days on the giant artificial island of plastic detritus floating in the Pacific Ocean, but instead we get a far more interesting look at young Chas Worthington trying to use the legacy and inheritance that he has been blessed and cursed with to better the world despite other interested parties trying their best to keep him down.  Harris and Morazzo do a fine job of instilling Chas with an air of naivety and disinterest in the early stages of the book that had me thinking that we would be dealing with something of a playboy brat, but before long it becomes clear that it couldn’t be further from the truth and our ‘hero’ is quite the likeable young man with a desire to do great things.  The theme of legacy is threaded throughout and while occasionally it does just run the line of being focussed on to the point of saturation it thankfully never crosses into the realms of overkill thanks to Harris’ efforts to keep the fun feeling of a heist/escapade with some neat plot work.  With Chas’ plans for his new home still a mystery I’m definitely locked in for the next few issues of this series.  8/10

Matt C: Another week, another new Image #1. This one's had a fair bit of buzz surrounding it, and the pitch is different enough to stick out - spoiled rich kid who's inherited a fortune and a global corporation decides to take a proactive approach to changing the world via environmental methods. Hopefully that doesn't make it sound like a treehugging extravaganza because that's definitely not the case - there's a healthy dose of cynicism running through it - but unfortunately, while the plot is appealing, the characters, particularly the protagonist, aren't engaging enough at this stage to really hook you in, and the art just isn’t strong enough to compensate. I say at this stage as there's every chance this series will have legs, but with the amount new books being flung as at the moment it's really boiling down to first impressions, and first impression of this is that that my money will be better spent elsewhere. 6/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Hickman's run was always going to be difficult to follow, and wisely Fraction seems intent on keeping the whole Future Foundation in play, but some spot on character moments aside this isn't such a convincing opener. Fraction looks like he's sending the team and the kids out into space to play up the adventurer/explorer angle, with an ulterior motive on Reed's part that sets the ball rolling on the idea (but on that note, am I wrong in thinking it’s his suit that’s made of unstable molecules, not his “physiognomy”??). This is fine, it fits with the FF's original MO, but although this was by no means a bad issue (Reed is particularly well observed) it really needed to blow me away, even at this early stage. Why? Well, it looks like a lot of these Marvel NOW! books will be appearing on an almost fortnightly basis, and if that's the case then my wallet is going to be making a lot of decisions on my behalf. I'll stick with it for another couple of issues as I love the characters (and both writer and art team have delivered repeatedly in the past) but unless it really grabs me by the lapels soon, I'll have to let it venture into the unknown without me. 6/10

Stewart R:  I loved Hickman’s big science take on Marvel’s First Family and was really quite sad to see it come to an end, but if you were ever going to hand it to another Marvel Architect (is that phrase even used anymore?) Fraction would be my choice.  It’s clear from this initial offering that while the science might not be so big - it appears that we’re rolling back to the good ol’ trusty Cosmic Rays plot focus - the former Invincible Iron Man scribe is keen to get the sense of family front and foremost in the reader’s view.  All of the Future Foundation are around for the opening antics and it appears that the large familiar cast might be along for the fantastic journey ahead.  While I liked the idea of Reed being presented with a problem that troubles him at a more emotional level than perhaps he’s used to, there doesn’t seem to be the foreboding weight to accompany it as the rest of the ‘filler’ - Ben’s trip to Yancy and Johnny’s date are quite throwaway - distracts unnecessarily and suggests that the balance between fun and dramatic might need to be monitored over the course.  Where once I held Mark Bagley quite high on my list of favoured artists it does seem to me that his speed for which he’s renowned can lead to a few patchy efforts here and there and there’s a little evidence of that in this #1.  It’s not that the art is bad, it’s just unspectacular, unconvincing and that judgement currently rings true for my verdict of the opening gambit of ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’.  5/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $2.99

James R: Coming hot on the heels of this incredible book's first arc finale, this issue #0 reprints three short stories that previously appeared online. As a result, it's not an issue proper, but as usual with Mind MGMT,  it’s pure class. The two tales fill in some of the blanks of the mythology surrounding the mysterious intelligence agency, and serve further notice to the power of Henry Lyme, the shadowy agent around whom the story revolves. Kindt once again shows that he has a magnificent understanding of comics; each story is only eight pages long, but each is filled with pace and content without ever feeling rushed or looking too busy. This book isn't an ideal jumping-on point, but it is further evidence that Mind MGMT is the most innovative and unique title on the stands at the moment. The promo for the next issue teases us with the promise of 'New Recruits' and I can't wait to see what Kindt will dream up next. As it is, I'm already looking out for instances of 'Mulligan Rock' in all the mainstream media... 8/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: Has this book made me smarter yet, as the cover suggests it will? Well, not really, I think I'm just about as smart as I ever was or am ever likely to be. Has this book made me more knowledgeable, specifically about the creation of cutting edge military weaponry and the techniques employed to find new ways to blow up the bad guys. There's a good chance it has because, alongside the shrewd, witty, fast-paced storytelling, Hawkins provides several pages of well-research back matter that sheds light on the various elements that can seem far-fetched and fantastical to the layman (like myself). And I love all that because it adds a level of integrity that gives the book its edge, and if you weren't convinced of its worth up until that stage (and why??), the extras should seal the deal. One of the best new books of 2012, I'm exceedingly pleased that it’s been upgraded from mini to ongoing. 8/10

Stewart R:  Matt Hawkins has managed to take the science and bureaucracy behind the military machine and turn it into one of the best adventure comics of 2012.  I’ve certainly never read a comic series with such dedication to the ‘real life’ applications of instruments of warfare yet in the same stroke remaining incredibly good fun in the process.  This is a superb example of how you utilise an entire issue for an ambitious getaway plan and never once drop the excitement for a second.  It could be argued that at no point is David ever caught in a truly tight spot, but Hawkins ensures that while elements of the plan might seem all too easy, the key here is in the magician revealing the secrets as the chase progresses and every little twist and jink in his audacious escape brought a little smile to this reader’s face.  Rashan Ekedal’s style doesn’t always come across as a ‘perfect fit’ for the plot and genre that he’s illustrating - there are odd moments where things seem a touch too simple in action sequences - but in that slight mismatching comes a high level of consistency from cover to cover and some brilliant expression work to give this book its own feel.  A big contender for new series of the year and the end of the arc proved to be as darn good as the chapters that preceded it.  9/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bob McLeod, Mike Gustovich & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: The first issue proper, and an amount of time has passed between the end of the graphic novel and the first page of this instalment – not long, but enough that the teens are developing bonds and forming friendships. Although Professor X doesn’t want these kids on the front line (yeah, like that’ll last!) he’s not averse to training them to use their abilities, and so the centrepiece of the issue is a workout in the Danger Room. There’s not much of an external threat for most of the duration with Claremont electing to focus on the relationships and the conflicts, layering on the teen angst in a relatively effective manner, so it doesn’t exactly show itself to be the most thrilling ‘debut’.  The writer starts planting the seeds of future threats as the final page looms into view, and as McLeod seems eminently capable of conveying the hormonal emotions of the characters, meaning this is a decent, if not especially memorable, opener. 7/10

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