10 Dec 2012

Mini Reviews 09/12/2012

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: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Jerome Opena & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

James R: Now this is how you start a new title! Jonathan Hickman announces the start of his Avengers run with a hugely confident first issue. If this is a taste of things to come, 2013 could be an exciting year for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The main criticism levelled at Hickman is that amongst his mind-warping big ideas and epic plots is that he misses out on character development. It's great to see that this certainly isn't the case here. He has an immediate grip and understanding of the team -from Captain America's refusal to yield to Banner's declaration "I think we're done talking",  this is the Avengers done right. Hickman thinks big, and this title feels like a natural fit for his prodigious talent as we meet both the God-like villain Ex Nihlo and learn of Tony and Cap's plan to extend the Avengers roster. We haven't used the term 'widescreen comics' since the heady days of The Ultimates, but it's certainly apt here as the art team of Opena and White have produced some sumptuous pages. I haven't been this excited about an Avengers book in years, and once again I think we can see that reboots and relaunches are ultimately superfluous - all you need to do in comics to keep your line fresh is combine the right creative forces. So bravo Tom Breevort and Lauren Sankovitch for this touch of comics alchemy - I'm hoping this is the first of many great issues. 9/10

Matt C: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this. Obviously I’m familiar with the creative team involved, but even then I didn’t know what kind of tone would be deployed here. Turns out that in Hickman, Opena and White’s hands, this Avengers lark is a serious business, and now I don’t know how I could have thought it would’ve turned out to be any different. This is Hickman in full-on epic, ambitious and portentous mode, going for the kind of scale and sense of urgency that would require multiple superfolk getting involved in a situation (take that, Justice League!).  This is reflected in the artwork, both Opena’s intricate illustrations and White’s sombre palette basically laying it out, telling us this is the ‘big-budget’ end of the spectrum, more so than Uncanny Avengers (which is looking a tad weak in comparison to this book).  A supremely confident start. 8/10

Writer: Kel Symons
Art: Mark A. Robinson & Paul Little
Image $2.99

Stewart R: There’s quite a simple premise to I Love Trouble; hustler and bad girl Felicia needs to get out of Dodge and lay low, ending up on a doomed flight and discovering that she possesses a special power in the process. Then comes the task of using her new gift for ill-gotten gains in order to get the heat off of her from her somewhat ruthless and nefarious employers. While I’ll admit that the plot doesn’t feel like anything particularly innovative or fresh, it’s Symons scripting and dialogue that provides the much needed edge to keep things on the interesting side.  Felicia may run on the wrong side of the right and wrong divide currently, but there’s an inherent likeability to her with her cocky and feisty demeanour shining through and Mark Robinson’s fine character work playing its part too. Robinson is in top form and his liquid style contributes to some very tasty kinetic pieces as Felicia’s learns to control her powers. Some may take issue with the choice of paper - it is a pretty rough grade - but I actually think it compliments the work of Robinson and helps to give colourist Little’s palette a lovely pastel feel. The key will be if this series proves to have that extra ingredient to make it a pull-list keeper, but for the moment I’m happy enough to pick up the next instalment. 8/10


Writer: Duffy Boudreau
Art: Wendell Cavalcanti & Antonio Fabela
Image $2.99

Matt C: The combined pull-quoting of Brubaker, Fraction and Hickman turned me on to this title and while it certainly wasn’t a bad book I’m kind of flummoxed why they’re rating it so highly. Maybe they’ve seen beyond this first issue, and maybe there’s better to come, but from my perspective all I can see is an average dystopian future tale. Blackacre is a walled-off city-state, and while the rest of the world has gone to hell the citizens within live in a relative utopia. Obviously what’s going on outside the walls isn’t something to be completely ignored, and that forms the basis of the plot here, sending out the protagonist to search for some missing colleagues. As I said, it came off as average, readable but nothing to write home about, and with the amount of new titles Image are currently churning out, that’s simply not enough to stick around for. 6/10

Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke & Phil Noto
DC $3.99

James R: Over the last few months I've given the first three issues of Minutemen to a few occasional-comic reading friends who’ve been curious about the Before Watchmen project, and like me their response has been totally positive. This penultimate chapter proves to be no different as Cooke really gets the feel of Moore and Gibbon's iconic title, and this month there were also echoes of Cooke's brilliant New Frontier. In that title, the writer highlighted the futility of war, and the cost of sacrifice, and that's evident again here as we learn of the Minutemen's finest (but also final) hour. It's been said before, but Cooke has a terrific understanding of time and place - his rendering of 1960s California and 1940s New York have a definite verisimilitude to them, and there is just something intrinsically classy about this book. Cooke leaves us with a brilliant cliffhanger - even though we know Nite Owl can't perish in the next issue, there's an incredible feeling of dread in the last pages, and I can't wait to see how he wraps this series up. Once again, I feel DC got their strategy wrong with Before Watchmen; If this had come out first and on its own, then I think there would have been a greater appetite for the other titles. As it is, there's been too much mediocrity, and the greatness of Minutemen is in danger of being tarred with the same brush as Rorschach, Comedian and Nite Owl, which would be harsh as its head and shoulders above those books. 9/10

Writer: Joe Harris
Art: Martin Morazzo & Tiza Studio
Image $2.99

Stewart R: After that very promising debut this second chapter isn’t quite as strong. I certainly enjoyed the brief insights that we get into Chas’ plan on just what his nation will need in order to survive on his newly founded floating continent and how he still looks at some of the problems from the viewpoint of a rich entrepreneur. Morazzo’s depiction of Chas’ new home is a stark success with the artificial wasteland clearly made up of a billion small pieces of plastic detritus and his efforts to show just how unstable the landscape can be are well thought out and delivered. Issues arise with some potential signposting of where things might fall apart (literally) for Chas where his US government opposers are concerned and I’m not entirely sold by the interaction that Chas has with another group who appear on the shores of New Texas. It is clear though that Harris might be going for the adventure angle a little more as the series progresses and this creative team definitely have the skills to keep this an exciting read regardless of the little niggles. 7/10

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

Matt C: You’ve liked what you’ve seen so far but there was a sense that a stride wasn’t being hit yet, and you’re waiting for the moment that all the elements to come together in the way you imagine/hope is possible. This is that moment. I liked the first two issues a lot, they were more grin-inducing than I had expected coming to the title as someone who never had much affinity with the character. This issue though rattles along with Posehn and Duggan providing a definite sense of comedic purpose, the majority of the gags hitting their marks dead on, resulting in one of the most genuinely funny issues I’ve had the pleasure of reading over the last twelve months. Yes, it’s very, very silly, but it earns its laughs, and throwing Doctor Strange into the mix turns out to be a masterstroke of hilarity. Moore nails both the lunatic action scenes and the character expressions (some feat considering the titular antihero wears a mask!) and Staples goes for bright splashes of colour to match the delirium of the plot. A genuine surprise and a genuine pleasure, Deadpool is a delightfully unexpected highlight amongst the Marvel NOW! relaunch. 9/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Javier Pulido & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I’m trying to avoid sounding like a broken record here but, yeah, this really is the best superhero title currently being published. There’s something so effortless about it, the way it flows, that feels like it’s eased itself into pole position with very little resistance, gaining its place by being tightly plotted and slickly conveyed at the same time. And okay, eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that it somehow hasn’t gained my ‘book of the week’ slot this time, but if you take it’s accumulated brilliance onboard then no other recent title matches it my opinion. So there.  Don’t be put off by the hyperbole though – I genuinely think anyone who hasn’t tried this already should seek out the 2nd, 3rd or wherever-we’re-at printings and see for themselves that Hawkeye is the real deal. 9/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Tom Derenick, Andres Guinaldo, Bit & Stephen Downer
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: This sci-fi series is now in full swing and Abnett and Lanning have done a phenomenal job of creating their own universe to play with and filing it with varied and colourful characters.  Not only that, but they’ve managed to look at a cast that span several different eras and generations and who all contribute to the major plot that has pummelled its way through these first six issues. The continued use of initial flashbacks - illustrated with panache by Guinaldo - adds weight to the events of the ‘present’ as the newest Hypernaturals team try to prevent their arch-nemesis Sublime from stealing away with a man so dangerous that even thinking of him could have lethal consequences for the Quantinuum as a whole. The great thing about this cast of heroes is that their powers all have some similarities to those seen in other comic books over the years, yet their use and depiction are handled in a very refreshing way that gives this BOOM! comic a feel all of its own. That of course is the part responsibility of Tom Derenick and while some of his panels can sometimes seem a little scrappy in their simplicity, the pure feeling of kineticism from page to page is terrific. The characterisation within the pages of Hypernaturals is rich as is to be expected with these talented writers and the unpredictable nature of their story, and the universe that it is unfolding within, has turned this into an unmissable team-book. 8/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: J.G. Jones & Alex Sincair
DC $3.99

Matt C: What the hell happened here? What started out as a miniseries that seemed to be taking an audacious approach to Eddie Blake’s role in the Watchmen universe has descended into something of an incoherent mess. With great art. So the Vietnam War wasn’t simple about repelling the North Vietnamese from South Vietnam, there were larger political games at stake? Yeah, like, no shit, Sherlock! But how does a tripping Comedian fit into all this? You tell me. Moore and Gibbons managed to tell us more about this character in a couple of panels than this series has managed so far. If I wasn’t past the halfway stage I’d drop this like a stone, but I now want to find out if Azzarello can wheedle his way out of this narrative hole he’s dug for himself. Don’t hand a copy of this to anyone who badmouthed Before Watchmen when it was announced as this will pretty much justify the majority of their criticisms. 2/10

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

Matt C: So the last issue was out two weeks ago, we’ve had this one this week, and then next week we’ve got  issue #4. Using my supreme mathematical skills I calculate that that’s three issues of Iron Man in ONE MONTH! And that’s ridiculous, especially when you consider they’re $3.99 a pop. For this kind of cost and regularity you’re really looking for the crème de la crème of superhero comics, which as good as it is, Iron Man isn’t. It’s a solid book that contains a lot of smarts but whereas Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery had a meticulously constructed narrative, this by comparison feels like it’s ambling along without great purpose. I’m now at a point where I like a book but I’m questioning whether I like it enough to justify the cost. I guess I’ve got until this Wednesday to figure out whether to give it another shot. 7/10

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

James R: Three issues in, and I'm still onboard! This is a pleasant surprise, as I was ready to drop this book at the first sight of Bendis over-indulgence, but slowly and surely, I think a great X-book is starting to take form. I think the whole "We bring the young X-men to the present day!" was just a gimmick to get everyone's attention. In this issue we see that Cyclops and Magneto are looking to establish "The new Xavier school" - a rival to Wolverine's academy. We also meet another of Bendis' new mutants, Benjamin,  a college student who can shape-shift to become anyone in his proximity. It looks like after the 'X-Men out of time' plot, this book is going to be a battle for hearts and minds. I love the idea of Wolverine Vs. Cyclops in a war to win over the slew of new mutants to their respective causes, and if that's how this book pans out, then I'm definitely sticking around. Once again, it looks terrific, and I hope Immonen and von Grawbadger can keep up with this breakneck release schedule that Marvel are opting for. It's good to see that Bendis is managing to keep from his cardinal sin of having everyone talk in exactly the same way (i.e. like him) and I'm willing to overlook the one gratuitous and pointless Howard Stern reference! It's good to see that Bendis is looking to augment rather than destroy the good work done by Aaron and Gillen on the X-books over the last two years, let's hope this continues in the same fine form. 8/10

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

Stewart R: So where on Earth (or Cybertron?) do you go after one of the biggest heavyweight fights in Transformers history?  Simon Furman clearly has a plan or two and they all tie in nicely with plots of yesteryear with the snugness of a literary dovetail joint. By combining Grimlock’s previous history with nucleon and the Headmaster origin of Scorponok, Furman is playing the nostalgia card to great effect and somehow bringing a very different element to proceedings - the idea of permanent endings.  The casualties to date really have been dramatic and more than the temporary deactivations or rewritable deaths that used to crop up through the long history of the original Transformers comic book series.  It could be said that perhaps there are a few too many plot threads floating around presently where I preferred the more focussed approach of his older work, but then Furman gives each of them just enough attention to keep it all bubbling along nicely for the moment and the interest truly lies in seeing just where it will all culminate and what the repercussions will be. Exhilarating and evolving nostalgia; that about sums it up!  8/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Bob McLeod & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Over in Uncanny X-Men #167 it was revealed that Professor X was under the influence of the Brood when he assembled the New Mutants, the intention being for them to become living hosts for their offspring.  Having tried to kill his students, Charlie now has to win back their trust, as he still thinks training them up is a top idea. They unanimously agree, although Danni Moonstar is proving to have a rebellious streak a mile wide. The main guts of the story involve, would you believe, a prank caller, and although that’s hardly the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Claremont fires up the teen melodrama bringing in the ugly spectre of child abuse fairly effectively. McLeod is on inking duty for this issue (credited as the ‘Finisher’) and Sal Buscema gets the pencilling gig, although those familiar with the younger Buscema’s work will note that McLeod’s style is more prominent. Currently coasting along as an entertaining read rather than an essential one. 7/10

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