2 Dec 2012

Mini Reviews 02/12/2012

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 this week, Matt C's New Mutants Project continues.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: So, yeah, again: wow. That debut issue wasn’t a fluke and this is clearly the winner of Marvel NOW! so far. Even the absence of Dean White on colours didn’t hamper my enjoyment as Ive Svorcina atmospherically realistic tones make an incredibly strong impression on the eyeball. Of the three timelines Aaron is playing with in this arc (and apparently for some time to come too) the past is brought into focus, as the brash young Thunder God comes face to face with the godslayer for the first time. What the writer captures vividly is the sense that this character has been around for centuries, and that he’s seen a lot in his time, but that sometimes something can come along that catches him totally off guard. There’s a majestic quality to this series already, the potency of the script being matched by some monumentally powerful visuals that convey the thrilling brutality of godlike beings clashing in an unforgettable fashion. Marvel have struck gold with Thor: God Of Thunder, and struck it using a lightning bolts sent down from the heavens. 9/10

Writer: Eric Stephenson
Art: Nate Bellegarde
Image $2.99

Stewart R: An interesting debut here and in spite of being a little jarring in terms of how the issue is split into two distinctive parts spanning three time periods, with only the slightest of real connections between the halves, there's definitely a level of quality on show that screams for the second issue to be picked up. I liked the use of the science publication double-page to give us some of the necessary exposition regarding the minds behind World Corp. and while it might not be to everyone's taste I think it was an efficient use of page space to get us to the more recent past when the bright and brilliant foursome have evidently been tarnished by some difficult yet prosperous years. Bellegrade does a fine job of aging the group from young promising twenty-somethings to elder corporate types with nary a smile betwixt them. He also does a fine job with the World Corp employees who dominate the second half of the issue, the majority of whom are experiencing a host of unusual physical symptoms following contraction of a mysterious virus. It's here where Stephenson works quickly to get the dozen or so crewmates all on the page at some point and deliver some concise characterisation that adds a needed level of emotion to the already intriguing mysteries that we've been presented with. Quite the promising start and I'll give Nowhere Men a chance to find somewhere on my regular pull-list. 8/10

Writers: Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner
Art: Amanda Conner & Paul Mounts
DC $3.99

James R: The first of the Before Watchmen titles to come to a close, and I'm left feeling the same as I did after issue #1 of Silk Spectre - a mixture of astonishment and disappointment. First, let's deal with the good: Amanda Conner is frankly phenomenal here. She's turned in the best work of an already remarkable career here, and she's excelled at using and manipulating the classic Watchmen 9-panel grid. She's also captured moments from the original and given them great resonance. For example, this issue Laurie momentarily gives into a moment of murderous revenge and Conner draws her exactly like the Comedian in Vietnam from the Dr. Manhattan chapter of the original. She also captures emotion and expression perfectly, giving this book an extra heart that I wasn't expecting. But sadly the book isn't a win for me. Whereas I appreciate Darwyn Cooke trying to do something different with the book, the whole 'Frank Sinatra as drug overlord' angle felt awkward and unnecessary - juxtaposed to the very real human elements of Laurie's relationship with Greg, it seemed oddly unreal. The book also stumbled in the last two pages as we see Laurie's introduction to the Crimebusters, and I rolled my eyes at Laurie’s internal monologue. On seeing Nite Owl: "God I could never go out with a guy like that."  The Comedian: "More like somebody's old man." This is a hard one to score as, rereading it, I was struck again at what an artistic achievement it was, so for Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts alone, it gets a...   7/10

Matt C: And so the first thing I thought upon reaching the final panel was, is that it? No, it’s not been a bad comic by any means, it’s not taken a dump on Alan Moore’s sacred scribblings, and doesn’t scream of being a cynical, corporate cash-in. The creators involved are too good for that (and Cooke clearly has a better handle on the Watchmen universe than some of the other guys involved in this project). What it is, well, it’s kind of throwaway. It’s a perfectly pleasant read but that’s as far as it gets, it just floats away into the depths of your memory after you put it down. It’s not essential, in other words. And yes, it really should have been essential , considering all the hoopla, to justify its existence. So it turned out to be an okay read, nothing more, and this mini would probably slip quietly away if one factor didn’t make it special, despite itself. That would be Amanda Conner’s frankly stunning artwork – career-best work, from the intuitive panel composition to its ability to capture the rapid emotional changes in the characters. Nowhere near being a comic you throw to the floor in disgust, cursing the name of everyone involved, but a comic that you wish had had a little more substance to it. 6/10

A+X #2
Writers: Chris Bachalo & Peter Davis
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend & Mike Del Mundo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This was very much an 'on the day' purchase for me purely based on Mr Bachalo's presence, but it has proved to be quite the entertaining buy. Bachalo deals with both writing and art duties on the first 10-page story involving the Russian Spy and Southern Belle of the Avengers and Mutant worlds and when the opening salvo has Natasha indulging in an actual day off with pampering and new car then it's pretty clear that this is going to be far removed from the gritty brainwashing antics of Ed Brubaker's writing for example. The couple of AR notation moments that turn up are suitably tongue-in-cheek - worth a very quick look - and while Bachalo and Townsend nail the action-packed fun visually (was it ever really in doubt?), it wouldn't be half as effective without the pretty decent script that squeezes all it can into the limited room. Peter David and Mike Del Mundo then offer up a similarly fun second act involving Kitty Pride being headhunted by none other than Tony Stark and there's a nice nod to Kitty's recent health scare that perpetuates into repulsor-based chaos. Del Mundo has a wiry-style all of his own and while a nice contrast to the first chapter I have to say that Tony's limbs look like they've been borrowed from Reed Richards at times. Good fun is the phrase that sums this up book and if you've the spare cash then by all means take a look, but at the pricier $3.99 (darn you Marvel, why? Why??) and definitely not an essential purchase there may well be other comics worth your time and attention this busy week.  7/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Riley Rossmo & Jean-Paul Csuka
Image $3.50

Matt C: Where last issue’s riffed heavily on the idea of a rehabilitated Joker, this issue chucks in some Clockwork Orange for good measure, suggesting some heavy (and perhaps unstable) psychological and medical conditioning has brought about Filmore Press relinquishing his past life of misdeeds. It’s not going the way I thought it would play out based on the premise, and that’s certainly in the plus column, but there is a nagging feeling that it needs a bit more oomph to be fully convincing.  The more disturbing elements are effectively handled, especially when accompanied by Rossmo’s creepy visuals, but the protagonist (antagonist?) comes off as a bit neutered compared to the last issue, which lessens the impact. The cliffhanger definitely has me wanting to see what happens next though, so I’d say at the moment Bedlam is hanging in there, just about. 6/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: John Cassady & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: After the first issue, which felt a little unsure for a debut, Remender hits the ground running this month and it seems to me that this is the book that will be the spiritual successor to  Uncanny X-Force. We get to see how this Red Skull came to be (and yes, I do read his dialogue in my best Nazi "Ve vill rule ZE WULD!" voice!) and learn how he plans to, well, rule the world with the help of Chuck  Xavier's brain! Meanwhile, the new mutant and Avengers team continues to take shape, and for all the talk of it being led by Havok, I think Remender has made a smart move putting Captain America and Wolverine at the heart of the book. These are two men who have lived through the same eras, and despite their differences, I love that there's a mutual respect between them. It almost goes without saying that the book looks spectacular - Cassaday's pencils with Laura Martin's lush colours are a treat for the eyes, and Cassaday draws a terrifically deranged Red Skull. A blast from first page to last,  it certainly acts as compensation to my sadness at the imminent conclusion to Uncanny X-Force. 8/10

Matt C: As it led the way I imagine Uncanny Avengers was intended to be the crown jewel of the Marvel NOW! relaunch, the combined talents of Rick Remender (coming off an acclaimed run on Uncanny X-Force) and John Cassaday (doing regular interior work for the first time in age) mixing up the two most prominent team’s in the Marvel Universe to produce a sales juggernaut that would bulldoze it’s way to the top. So why does it feel like it’s not quite as good as it should be? It’s a better issue than the first but it still comes across like a group of decent elements (some crisp dialogue, some sterling visuals) that don’t form a cohesive whole. Maybe it’s the more serious subject of bigotry not completely gelling with the Red Skull’s gonzo ‘mad-science’ plan that’s throwing me off. I want to like this much more than I am, and I do intend to see it through for the first arc, but unless it starts to really sparkle soon it’ll be a premium title I can afford to go without. 7/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Matteo Scalera & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There have been moments where this title has drifted a little close to the 'satisfactory' section of my pull-list for comfort and then just as quickly it has risen majestically to deliver the kind of engrossing emotional, high stakes action that we witnessed those many moons ago when Remender unleashed Uncanny X-Force upon the world. These black ops Avengers all find themselves in lethal situations this month as The Descendants plans start to see the sky fall around the team's ears and Ant Man's treachery leaves several members in that unenviable position between choosing that old deadly vacuum of space or death by plunging atmospheric fireball. Where this differs somewhat to the aforementioned UXF is that these are not heroes with supercharged Project X powers of healing, or who have large amounts of experience in the field of receiving torture, and that allows the danger to be almost palpable. In a strangely different stroke the realm of the undead that is Earth-666 oozes horror fun as the monstrous Avengers take on surprisingly obvious and yet very effective characteristics which Matteo Scalera renders terrifically. His work in this issue is just superb and I just had to have a cheeky look at the solicitations to make sure he's onboard for #35 as I really cannot wait to see what he and Remender throw our way next. 9/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $2.99

James R: You can file this one under 'Pleasant Surprise'! Morrison's narrative focusing on the epic tussle between Batman and Talia Al-Guhl takes a back seat this month as we're told a story of a potential Batman to come. Once again, we're propelled forward to a dark future where Damian has taken the mantle of the Bat (and, as I never cease to enjoy, looks exactly like Grant Morrison!) We last saw this future in Batman #666, and it was one of the high points of that run. Lightning very much strikes twice here as this is easily the best issue of Batman Incorporated to date. We see Damian desperately trying to defend Gotham from a Joker-infected mob as the city burns. It's dark - incredibly so - but it is also totally compelling as Morrison delivers a fully realised world in just twenty pages. A special note of praise to Chris Burnham's pencils - they are extraordinary this month, and he channels moments from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns as well as putting his own stamp on the bleak dystopia. Long-time readers of this blog will know I'm a sucker for an apocalyptic tale at the best of times, and this was a belter. This is Morrison at his All-Star Superman best - I'm hoping the final issues of this run are as strong. 9/10

Writer: Ken Garing
Art: Ken Garing
Image $2.99

Stewart R: This for me has from the outset been one of the most enthralling miniseries released in 2012. Ken Garing has brought through many elements in his tale of extraterrestrial wasteland survival, taking loner Silas and turning him into a skilled yet somewhat reluctant community leader who you can still never be too sure might fly the coop and leave everyone behind should the opportunity reveal itself. It's this uncertainty and muted roguish behaviour that makes this fourth chapter all the more important as the deadly and until now elusive Ono Mao republic come into plain view and the hero of the piece is set to go through the physical and emotional wringer. Garing does a fine job of showing us the enemy and using this as the time to really allow us to see behind Silas' steely demeanour, catching sight of a man whose past weighs heavy on his heart and yet also spurns him on to survive and escape this barbaric world. Garing's art is as strong as ever, never becoming too detailed or complicated in a book heavy on industrial and robotic settings and his touch with subtle emotion is exemplary. I know this is a miniseries currently and it obviously depends on how things come to their conclusion, but at this juncture I'd be very happy to see more stories from Mr Garing's brilliant universe. Not picking this up already? Then perhaps you should be left marooned on a faraway planet to think about what you're missing out on (I jest... somewhat).  9/10

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

Matt C: This issue starts very strongly, giving Danni Moonstar centre stage for a very effective demonstration of paranoia and teenage alienation, as the young mutant is attacked by a creature ripped straight from her nightmares. It taps into something immediately familiar and although it’s a theme that runs throughout the rest of this instalment, it’s not quite as powerful once all the other members of the New Mutants get involved, with things becoming a little more predictable. McLeod’s art works best in the first few moonlit pages, the terror on Danni’s face palpable. 7/10

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