17 Dec 2012

Mini Reviews 16/12/2012

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: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Kev Walker & Frank Martin
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: You only really need a passing familiarity with the zeitgeist to see where Avengers Arena is taking its inspiration from. The Hunger Games turned out to be one of the biggest movies of 2012 and there’s something inherently powerful in the idea of putting teens into a survival of the fittest scenario which stretches right back to Lord Of The Flies. Arcade, the villain of the piece, even makes a sly reference to The Hunger Games books in this issue. Oh, and then there’s that overt Battle Royale homage on the cover! So it wears its influences on its sleeve and that’s fine as it’s not a bad stab at spinning out a superhero version of the concept, but while it’s well put together I’m thinking I’m perhaps a fair bit older than the intended audience. Maybe 20 years ago I would have thought this was the shit, but my older self finds it a bit too derivative. I guess the fact that I’m largely unfamiliar with the characters doesn’t help (bar X23) as they all seem like cannon fodder to me and not likely to engender any strong emotional attachment.  Walker’s artwork is a real plus point but overall this isn’t a Marvel NOW! title I feel like I need to follow. 6/10

Writer: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo, Jock, Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plascencia & Dave Baron
DC $3.99

James R: Book of the week for the first page alone! Wow. Snyder and Capullo grab our attention from the off this month, as once you open this book you're confronted by a terrifying and stark image of the Joker, accompanied by Batman's monologue that outlines just why this man is his nemesis... and something to fear. As usual, Batman is like a 'How-To' manual for writing superhero comics - Snyder finds the right mixture of plot and character development before leaving us on a terrific cliffhanger. In this issue, we begin to see what Joker has planned for Batman, and man alive, is it creepy! I've always enjoyed the quote from Bryan Edward Hill that if Superman is the American Dream, then Batman is the American Truth, and there is something morbidly compelling about Batman when he's done right. As I've said many, many times before on this blog - Snyder totally understands the character. There's also the bonus of another Jock-illustrated back-up tale, which sees the Joker lock horns with the Riddler. A while back Snyder tweeted that the Riddler would be turning up in Batman, and good to his word, his portrayal here hints at a far more deadly and intelligent Edward Nigma waiting in the wings for the Dark Knight. There's been a lot of talk amongst the PCG and my other comics reading friends that DC's line is looking very mediocre in places, but we're all agreed that this book stands alone as an example of both pure comics goodness and darkness simultaneously. 9/10

Stewart R: There’s no doubting that 'Death of the Family' has me well and truly hooked and Scott Snyder has done remarkable things in the 14 issues of Batman we’ve had previously. Here however I just felt that Bruce’s confrontation with his previous and current ‘wards’ just dragged on a little too long. The reiteration of Bruce’s belief that the Joker cannot possibly have all of the inside information he claims to possess seems to be growing long in the tooth, not least because we are actually handed the details of one ‘impossible’ scenario in which the word ‘possible’ seems to be rubber stamped all over it and that Bruce could well be incorrect in his assumption considering the tenacity of his foe. Capullo’s depiction of the Bat family demanding answers also seems a little rushed and his stronger work definitely comes in the show-stopping stand off moments and general cape and cowl detective work where Synder also excels himself. When it comes to the relationship between hero and villain, and the unique way that their history has unfolded, Snyder is still undeniably in fine form with the creativity and subtlety of his writing. His ability to dissect all of those years through Bruce’s internal monologue and expose so many unsaid secrets that make you crave for the next issue means that any niggles are quite easily brushed away.  8/10

Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Before Uncanny X-Force I never had much interest in this particular mutant team – a bunch of the initial issues, the Warren Ellis spearheaded ‘Revolution’ relaunch and then the X-Statix thing, but other that the concept of a Cable-fronted team of mutant outlaws never really clicked for me. But then Uncanny X-Force changed all that (and how!) so now I kind of feel obliged to check out any book with ‘X-Force’ in the title. Cable And X-Force #1 is an absolutely readable X-book delivering what many a fan would want, but coming straight after the sublime Uncanny X-Force it feels like a step backwards. With his second new Marvel NOW! title of the week Hopeless has proven he’s got some decent writing chops and Larroca’s art is as slick and sturdy as you would expect, but I’ve got a feeling this will appeal more to old school X-Force fans more than new converts. 6/10

Stewart R: Any X-Force title is going to have its work cut out for it following the truly epic job that Rick Remender has done with Uncanny X-Force these past couple of years. For this first Marvel NOW! effort Dennis Hopeless has been brought on board and I certainly like the roster that he’s put together which should certainly provide some interesting interactions down the line and I look forward to finding out more about their individual motives.  This debut however, is a little light in the explanation stakes with pretty much no information provided on why Cable is bringing this group together. What we’re given instead is a rather strange face-off with the Uncanny Avengers, a brief look into Cable’s current physical condition and a glimpse at his recruitment drive that yes, shows that there’s a decent shade of comedy in Hopeless’ dialogue, but also has me a little wary of his characterization of Dr Nemesis who should always carry the pomposity that he’s renowned for and he seems to lack that arrogance here presently. Despite my slight misgivings about this debut there’s definitely a level of quality woven through the pages from Larroca’s clean and crisp visuals to the well-written reunion that may well give this series its heart. Not the greatest of starts, but there’s promise for sure. 6/10

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Adam Hughes & Laura Martin
DC $3.99

James R: In a way that is absolutely apposite for this book, I both love it and hate it simultaneously. As Dr. Manhattan explores the infinite multiverse and alternative choices that led to him becoming a God in all but name, there is much to applaud here. Firstly, there's the ambition of Straczynski's script; this certainly isn't a 'dumbed-down' title and JMS (rightfully) credits his readers with intelligence - it's great to see a comic dealing with the strangeness of the quantum world. It's also a treat to see Adam Hughes' art match these lofty aspirations - a page where Jon considers the notion of time being frozen was magnificent, and reminiscent of the craft and quality that J. H. Williams III brings to his books. So what's the problem? Well, a large chunk of this issue is spent telling us about Jon's childhood which is basically Magneto lite - family escapes the Nazis in war-torn Europe, trauma follows. After this, once again, Straczynski goes back to the scene that's been at the core of all his Before Watchmen books, the one which suggests Jon manipulated the Crimebuster's patrol partnerships to give him a shot at the Silk Spectre. This may be my personal fanboy gripe, but it feels like the most laboured and ill-fitting plot device. Whereas every other Before Watchmen book has kept the original as untouchable (and rightfully so) this feels like Straczynski rewriting the original for his own ends. All told, it's not anywhere as great as Minutemen, but it's a million times better than Nite Owl and Comedian. In keeping with the quantum nature of the book, I can't really recommend it, but simultaneously I'd still say it's worth a look. 6/10

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

Stewart R: The regularity with which this title has appeared on the shelves in the past 6 weeks is well over the border into the land called Ridiculous, but I’d be far less happy if Kieron Gillen weren’t doing his best with Tony Stark’s attempts to wrestle the genie that is Extremis back into its bottle.  The groups and individuals who have appropriated the deadly technology have given these chapters a great sense of variety as Tony has had to adapt to each situation and take the specific tool he thinks best for each job.  I enjoyed the use of superstition in this latest installment and Gillen certainly has a good grasp of Tony’s ability to improvise and is putting him in different scenarios that allows the upper hand to flit in and out of Stark’s possession.  That said, I believe there is one small misstep here where Tony references the Hulk in relation to the opposition that he’s facing; while I appreciate that this is used to highlight the danger he’s facing it doesn’t quite feel right and also begs the question as to why Tony would continue to go into situations where he knows that he’s likely outgunned to that level without bringing in support. If he’s that concerned about the proliferation of Extremis there would definitely be a point where his arrogance would make way for common sense considering that he’s an Avenger surely? Grumble aside, Gillen’s characterization of our armoured protagonist is pretty decent and his subsequent dilemma on just how to best resolve this scenario adds an emotional weight to proceedings. This title is still there and still arguing its case well for remaining on the pull list.  7/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Garry Brown & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: It's not just the scale and scope of the premise that makes The Massive such an impressive and enticing proposition right from the offset, it's the level of detail Brian Wood brings to the meticulously researched environment he's created that furnishes it with an effective plausibility. In the Internet age the world feels an awful lot smaller than it used to be, but seeing it as Wood depicts it here, post-Crash, reminds you that, without that instantaneous connectivity we now take for granted, the globe is a vast place one that can be both isolating and dangerous. Having a group of environmentalists as the protagonists of the piece may have seemed like a strange idea to begin with, but when considering the series of environmental disasters that kickstarted the Crash, it kind of makes perfect sense. Brown’s unfussy illustrations reinforce the story’s grounding in reality, and the redoubtable Dave Stewart’s subdued tones provide the right level of ambience for the proceedings. In an often frivolous and throwaway medium, The Massive sticks out because it feels vital and important, and with this voyage still just beginning I can’t imagine not staying onboard to see what happens next. 8/10

Writer: Peter J.Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R: While a lot of the 'Death of the Family' focus will inevitably fall upon Scott Snyder’s Batman title, the idea at the heart of the overriding story means that of all of the other Bat books, Batman And Robin is probably the one where the Joker’s machinations could have the biggest impact in the long term.  This issue has a truly superb confrontation between Damian and the clown prince of Gotham where Tomasi’s ability with dialogue and dramatic interactions is clear for all to see. He really gets stuck into the relationship between the Dynamic Duo and how the Joker resents those who he sees to have held back his nemesis from being the best that he can be when it comes to their twisted dance.  The way that Tomasi looks at the differences between bats and robins in the natural world is a strong complement to the way in which this maniacal villain views the world and the creepy setting also helps to elevate this whole terrific scene to the realms of unmissable. If nothing else you simply have to pick this up just to see how Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz ensure that this is one of the most enthralling yet gruesomely macabre books on the shelf this year. The fun that Gleason has with the Joker’s current facial arrangement is just brilliant and Gray’s deep inking style just adds to the nightmare-inducing mastery of it all.  A tie-in 'Death of the Family' issue that I actually believe outshines anything seen in the event to date. 10/10

Writer: Grace Randolph
Art: Russell Dauterman & Gabriel Cassata
BOOM! Studios $3.99

James R: After last month's re-introduction to the world of the Meta Legion, Grace Randolph does a fine job of spinning a lot of plates in this month's Superbia. I've always found that the problem with the Big Two's 'Team' books is that for all their inherent promise, they struggle to get the balance right – there are too many characters clamouring for attention, many relegated to the roles of pointless interlopers. Superbia, by comparison, is impressively adept at giving all the members of the Meta Legion plot time while moving the overall story forward. From the relationship of Hella Heart and Sovereign, via the attack on Alexis, to the high drama of Batu and her son Eli, this book moves fast but keeps you involved. It's also great to see a series featuring so many strong female characters, who are anything but eye-candy (despite being nicely illustrated by Russell Dauterman). If DC wanted to do something more interesting with Justice League Of America rather than bringing out 50 different covers, they could do with picking up the phone to Grace Randolph. She clearly knows how to write a team book and show us a narrative that's far more rewarding than a series of endless fight sequences. 8/10

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

Matt C: The teen team get to tackle some B-list villains this issue in the shape of Silver Samurai and Viper, but unfortunately the two of them pretty much act as though they’ve only just skim-read Villains 101. The more interesting aspect of the plot is their target, a group of Evil Knievels called Team America (no, not that Team America!), a rather hokey team that kind of scream “cash-in”, but they actually possess (unbeknownst to them) a rather funky combined superpower (aka the Dark Rider). Once Professor X gets involved he appears to start manipulating his young mutants-in-training off into harms way again, even though he believes his motives are sound, in the grand scheme of things. In the real world, nobody would ever let a huy like this run a school! Dani Moonstar is the standout character here, as she probably has been since the get go. She still has a whiff of cliché about her, but she regularly rises above where teammates generally struggle. McLeod is still putting his stamp on the art through his inking, but some classic Sal Buscema poses do pleasingly sneak through. 7/10

1 comment:

walkeri said...

Nice reviews as always guys.
As for Avengers Arena,what a way to piss off us past Avengers Academy readers from the start by killing a well liked character from that title.
Don't know if I will stick with this one but it seems to me the writers surname is kind of spot on for this opening issue.
But for me by far the best Marvel Now title has been Thor.