23 Dec 2012

Mini Reviews 23/12/2012

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 Opeña, Dean White, Justin Ponsor & Morry Hollowell
Marvel $3.99

James R: After last month's full-throttled opening, this issue of Avengers is all about origins and manifestos. While the 'core' Avengers are trapped on Mars, we learn more about Ex Nihlo and his sister Abyss. Their mission is pure Hickman as the two act as celestial architects - modifying worlds to become more 'magnificent', or if the process fails, razing the life therein. Simultaneously we are given the classic 'putting the team together' sequence in flashback. What was most pleasing here was seeing Hickman's lighter side; he's brilliant at all the high concept stuff, but from this issue it's clear that he's also got the voices of the Avengers right too. His one panel of Spider-Man, for example, was a perfect representation of Peter Parker, and this makes me incredibly excited to see how he's going to have the new team interact. Once again, it looks beautiful - Opeña 's style is wonderfully distinctive, giving the reader a sense of the fantastical grounded in the real, and as always, Dean White's colours give the book a rich and individual look. I know I've been giving DC's Justice League a kicking since it's relaunch, but seriously - someone at DC needs to be shown this book and told this is how you write your big marquee title. Two issues in and I'm madly in love with it, which is helping ease the pain of Uncanny X-Force coming to an end. An essential read. 9/10

Stewart R: The quality doesn’t dip for this second issue of Hickman’s Avengers as he continues to expand upon the history of the mysterious and god-like Garden, providing us with an effective backstory that explains just how their relationship works and how big a part they have played in the shaping of parts of the Universe. What I particularly like is that Hickman has managed to portray them almost as a force of nature to hopefully be diverted, rather than villains powered onwards by inherent evil. With very little effort he has also managed to imbue them with an incredible sense of power simply through the use of odd flashback panels - superbly pieced together by Opeña and White - and also aided the introduction of these new characters by making the universe seem as near-incomprehensibly massive as it is. The fact that the Garden are genuinely pleased and surprised to discover Thor’s existence as a deity helps to give a sense of scale to the themes in play - all too often I suppose I just expect the Asgardian Gods to be a known force or constant within the universe, and in addressing this Hickman has once again shown his masterful ability at making the reader re-evaluate what they previously thought or believed to be true within these fictional worlds and shown the possibilities are infinite. This is A-grade comic book writing and is a worthy flag-waver for the Marvel NOW! project. 9/10

Matt C: Okay, so Hickman means business here. Cementing the promise of the first issue, this sees the writer delivering a version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that we’ve never seen before, at least in the 616 universe.  It feels bold, epic and energising, positioning the superhero team as the planet’s first line of defence against both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial threats. I love the combination of Steve Roger’s and Tony Stark’s approaches to the problem these greater threats, merging a revised state of mind with the creation of a “new machine” to tackle them. Opeña’s visuals inject the kind of majestic, intoxicating potency that the book needs to make the required impact, and there’s an undeniable feeling whilst reading this issue that we’re on the cusp of true greatness here. 9/10

Writer: Francesco Francavilla
Art: Francesco Francavilla
Dark Horse $2.99

Matt C: This is right up my street. Obviously I’m partial to a thrilling superhero tale but if I was to pick a genre that excites me equally (perhaps more so) it’s the crime genre, and if it’s set in the US during the early part of the 20th century then that’s as good as it gets for me. So combining some 1940s noir with pulpy superheroics has a good chance of nabbing my attention, even more so with Franceso Francavilla at the helm. After warming to his art style in the likes of Left On A Mission and Zorro, it was his work on Detective Comics that really clicked for me - with its creepy vibe and stark use of colour, it seemed like Francavilla was someone who thrived in shadowy environments, so the pure pulp of Black Beetle #0 sees him in his element. This was originally serialised in the Dark Horse Presents anthology title and has been collected to act as a precursor to the forthcoming miniseries No Way Out, and if this issue is anything to go by, that’ll be a definite purchase. Clanedestine Nazi agents, ancient mystical artifacts and an ice-cool, gun-wielding costumed crimefighter, presented in the comic format with style and aplomb? How could I not sign up for this? 8/10
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Kev Walker, Frank Martin with Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: When it comes to a title focusing on a wide cast of C and D-list characters, it was always going to be important to get out of the gate quickly with some deep and captivating characterisation and Hopeless has done a fine job here. Following the debut which quite sensibly placed the better known Avengers Academy cast in the spotlight, the newly appointed Marvel scribe delves into the lesser known guys and gals who are being forced to play ‘kill or be killed’ in Arcade’s despicable game. Picking the naive and seemingly innocent Ryker - a girl whose father saved her life using Deathlok technology - as the protagonist whose past and journey we follow through the pages this time, works well and allows for a good range of comparison with the harder, more threatening youngsters left to fend for themselves in Murderworld. Hopeless is doing a good job of giving each of these teens their own voice and while the plot and interactions do have that predicted Hunger Games feel, there’s definitely a feeling that odd tics and traits that appear here and there are going to make for a rich and unpredictable story as this series progresses. With less occurring in the action stakes this time around it gives Kev Walker a chance to show his subtlety when it comes to character emotion and expression and with the aforementioned tics and traits he delivers an accomplished artistic effort. This, ladies and gentlemen, is beginning to look like a keeper!  8/10
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: So in the recent *ahem* prestigious Paradoscar awards, Hawkeye #1 won Best Single Issue for 2012. Well deserved I’m sure you’ll agree, but damn if Fraction, Aja and co haven’t gone and trumped that sterling effort just before the year’s end! I would say the first two pages alone are enough to bowl you over with their brilliantly constructed genius, but then the pages that follow are equally as astonishing, so let’s just say the whole thing is an exceptional example of modern superhero comics at their finest. Fraction’s script possesses a wit that eases you in and a lightness of touch that envelopes you, meaning those moments where the tension ratchets upwards really grab hold with a vice-like grip. Clint Barton is an infectiously loveable protagonist, and the supporting cast are note perfect (with Doctor Druid posthumously nabbing the best line of the series so far!). Aja’s art just seems to get more astonishing with each issue, from his inventive use of the familiar panel grid structure to the way he captures those human moments with perfect comic timing, all lovingly coloured by Hollingsworth. The non-linear narrative is deftly realised, leading up to a brilliant finale that is prompting me to say that this is not only my favourite superhero comic currently being published, but my favourite comic currently being published, period. It really doesn’t get any better than this. 10/10
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: While I’m certainly enjoying this new X-Force book I do have to say that I’m hoping for the driving force behind the plot to turn up in the very near future as I’m not sure how long I can keep an interest in Cable simply doing things because he’s had glimpses of some terrible possible event. As far as action goes I enjoyed seeing Domino and Hope tackle the Transmode virus and Larroca is certainly giving as good an account of himself here as he did during his heralded run on Invincible Iron Man. While Colossus’ full motivation for being on the team is still yet to be dissected we at least get some proper interaction with the Russian mutant who’s certainly been through the wringer and Hopeless does a good job of delivering the earnest moral fire that Piotr has been known for in the past as he and Cable clash. I’m a little less convinced by the patter between Domino and Cable later on as the ‘leave the job to someone else’ dialogue never ever gets taken onboard in any superhero story and it doesn’t sit right that Neena, with all of her history with the time travelling Summers, would even bother to suggest the old man sit this one out considering what he’s been through before. This is certainly showing promise, but it definitely needs a kick in the plot at some point soon. 7/10
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Art: R.M. Guera, Jason Latour & Giulia Brusco
DC/Vertigo $3.99

James R: I bought this out of a combination of loyalty, nostalgia and curiosity. Back as a callow youth in the 1980s, I loved adaptations of movies - both comics and books. In those days, they were your only way to replay the films you loved. (I must point out my family didn't get a VCR until the late ‘80s - traumatic, I know!) These adaptations were always fascinating - they were either exceptional renderings, or downright awful, but interestingly enough they were often illustrated by artists who were only ever shown rough cuts of movies, or in some cases stills along with the script! Famously, Walt Simonson adapted Alien from three(!) separate scripts and some slides, thus producing his own, unique version of the movie. As for the loyalty, well, I bloody love Quentin Tarantino - Pulp Fiction was the first 18-rated movie I ever saw in the cinema, and despite his critics, in my eyes he never delivers anything less than compelling and thrilling films. Put these two elements together, and I was curious to see how the adaptation of Django Unchained came out. Pretty damn good is the answer! The first page features an introduction from QT which sold me entirely - not only does he display some (predictably) great fanboy credentials, but he informs us that this series is his unedited first draft of the script. Beautiful! It's illustrated brilliantly by R.M. Guera, and having read this opening chapter, I'll now have to buy the others, but leave them unread until I've seen the movie - I want to stay unspoilt!  This was a total treat in a week of great comics, and if, like me, you like a good adaptation, definitely take a look at Django! 8/10
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, Norman Lee, Craig Yeung & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I have to say that I’ve been a little disappointed with this Murder Circus arc so far as I feel it’s ripped much of the impetus that had been present in Aaron’s title to this point away. While I can see that it’s a fine opportunity to push the children of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning to the fore I’m finding it difficult to find enthusiasm for the Frankenstein plot. Yes, perhaps there was a need to make the new Hellfire Club’s membership a little more interesting and just the slightest bit less abrasive, but the combination of Aaron’s lean towards comedy and Bradshaw’s ‘cuter’ pencilling style has meant that this look into Maximilian Von Katzenelnbogen’s interactions with Idie seem a little too light and throwaway presently. The dialogue is a little off throughout this issue as well, feeling a touch forced in several places and as if Aaron is purposefully aiming for a much younger audience with this arc. Perhaps it’s just me being a touch fussy in a week that gave us Uncanny X-Force and Avengers with all of their adult themes, but regardless I think I’m going to have to put Wolverine & The X-Men on probation within my pull-list. 5/10
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Aaron is really emphasising the Thunder God as an immortal being whose existence has spanned millennia, and with concepts like the Omnipotence City it proves that a writer with significant talent can still bring something new to the table for characters who’ve had several decades of stories under their belts. So we get Thor traversing the cosmos, finding the corpses of deities who’ve met their final fate at the hands of the God Butcher, as the weight of his perceived responsibility for setting events in motion sits heavily on his shoulders. A brief appearance from Iron Man grounds this tale squarely in the contemporary Marvel Universe but we are reminded, through a monologue discussing memories that are long since lost, that this hero will have seen plenty of mortal comrades-in-arms fall to the passage of time. It’s that sense of longevity that I’m really connecting with here, along with the fact that Ribic’s sumptuous illustrations bring a real sense of gravitas and an almost tangible mythic quality to the proceedings. This feels like the Thor book I’ve been waiting for years for without realising it  - an instantly classic take on the character, and a title that’s right at the front of the Marvel NOW! pack. 10/10
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

Stewart R: As far as cross-title events goes, the ‘Rise of the Third Army’ story is crawling along at a snail’s pace and is in need of a kick in the pants, especially when it comes to the premier Green Lantern title. It’s clear that Johns in on the slow build and carefully manoeuvring all of the pieces that he requires for the inevitable whirlwind of (hopefully) awesome to come, and here he brings Simon and Agent Franklin Fed together via a somewhat predictable route. Simon trying to clear his name is the natural line to take and the events that transpire do so swiftly and by the numbers while also thrusting the bigger picture clearly into view. I’m not entirely sure whether I just enjoyed this issue due to the fairly sturdy storytelling abilities of Johns - it certainly wasn’t the appearance once more of the DC inking army! - or more for the fact that it come the last few pages that there are signs that the audience actually willing things to go a bit faster might be working. A gear shift is needed and quite soon, that is for sure. 6/10
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Phil Noto & Frnak Martin Jr.
Marvel $3.99

James R: Our very own Stewart R has already written a great review of this issue, and to save you from boredom, I won't repeat him verbatim, but I will certainly echo his sentiments. This book has been exceptional, and finishes with a very special final issue. Acting as a coda to the series as a whole, it's hard to judge it as an individual comic, but as a final chapter, this was magical. Remender expertly walks a fine line between sentimentality and the emotional darkness that has been at the heart of this title. Most notable for me was the sequence between Deadpool and Evan. Prior to this book, I could not have cared less about Deadpool - he seemed a one-note fanboy pleasing joke - but Remender gave him real heart. Likewise with Evan, what could have been a throwaway character has become a highlight not only here, but in Jason Aaron's excellent Wolverine & The X-Men. Finally, there's the last scene as the resurrected Fantomex takes Psylocke to meet his mysterious 'Mother'. As with both these characters throughout the series, there exists a brilliant hint of misdirection, and like so many of the great stories, the interpretation is left to the reader. The final page reminded me of the last page of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles and that's some pretty good company. One of the essential comics of this decade, and a triumph all round. 10/10

Matt C: There’s not much more I need to say that Stewart R hasn’t already said in his Cover To Cover review but I did want to raise my glass in appreciation of this closing chapter of one of the finest Marvel series of recent years. From Remender’s ferociously intelligent scripting to the largely consistent murky visual aesthetic, Uncanny X-Force has (bar a couple of missteps) been a delight, taking a well-worn concept and doing some incredible and unexpected things with it. As an example, this issue features a moment between Deadpool and Evan that instantly gets under your skin with some emotive writing and expressive art, and it reminds you that, as a whole, the series has been populated with such memorable moments. So farewell then to this incarnation of Uncanny X-Force. It shall be missed. 9/10
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, A. Gill, J. Tartag & George Roussos
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: The Team America storyline continue onwards in this issue as Professor X has the motorcycle superheroes and his own teen mutants searching for Dani Moonstar, currently in the clutches of Viper and the Silver Samurai. This is the point where the title starts to feel incredibly formulaic and forgettable – undoubtedly Chris Claremont had his own individual way of telling comic book tales, but there’s a sense that he’s simply on autopilot here, and there are a multitude of comics from around this era that you could find in a back issue box that have the same forgettable quality to them. If this were a contemporary title I would definitely be reconsidering whether it deserved a place on my pull-list. 5/10


walkeri said...

Nice reviews again guys but very heavy on the Marvel side of things again (seven reviewed,eight if you count the back issue of The New Mutants)and only one DC comic,also I think we get the message now that Hawkeye is a great comic and it is one I collect but doe's it have to be reviewed all most every time it's published.
DC,Dynamite,IDW etc. are publishing some great comics these days as well as Marvel,so how about a bit more variety on what's reviewed from time to time and I know your reviewing comics you collect but every now and then a review of a comic you may or may not collect would be nice and who know's it might encourage us readers to pick up a new title.
Not having a moan as such just giving my opinion such as it is,so I shall close by wishing everyone involved with this site A Merry Christmas and I hope you all have a good New Year.

Andy C said...

Nice reviews guys. Following James' excellent 'cover to cover' of Uncanny X-Force, it was good to read everyone's feelings on the last issue, although a shame someone didn't hate it so we could all have a 'debate'! The Deadpool scene was expertly written and highlighted how well the character has been used in this title.

X-Force will be missed (not currently tempted by either of the replacements) but Avengers has so far looked to be stepping up to the plate. Very different vibe but a massive surprise to me as mainstream Marvel titles are not normally my thing. This has an exciting epic feel which leaves you craving for the next instalment. Yet another PCG recommendation I have adopted after reading your reviews.

Come to think of it, so was Uncanny X-Force. And Sweet Tooth, the next awesome title coming to an end.......

Just wanted to say thanks to all at PCG for all your hard work. Your reviews are eagerly awaited and always the best online. This year has seen the return of 'on the pull' and none of this happens without a massive amont of effort whilst the rest of us just enjoy reading our comics. CHEERS GUYS, AND MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Matt Clark said...

Ian: Reviews are more weighted more on Marvel at the moment because of, surprisingly, Marvel NOW!. Check out our reviews in the weeks following the New 52 launch and I'll think you'll find the situation was the other way round. Besides, we don't get paid for this, so the books we review are the ones we use our hard-earned cash to buy.

Andy: So which is the next unanimously praised book on the horizon. Avengers? Or something we haven't seen yet?

Hope you both have a Merry Christmas and a 2013 filled with great comics!

Matt Clark said...

Oh, and yes, I absolutely do have to review Hawkeye every time it comes out if it remains as good as it is. You, on the other hand, absolutely don't have to read the reviews if it bugs you that much!

Andy C said...

Don't ask me Matt, mostly tends to be stuff I wouldn't have picked up! I have high hopes for Avengers which so far has been way better than I would have expected.

I have loved Harvest but its about to end. I haven't lost faith yet in Bedlam but can't see it earning unanimous praise. Batman, Saga and Avengers are the obvious candidates, although Batgirl seems to get better and better.

As for new stuff, I'm not personally aware of much on the horizon (none of the remaining Marvel NOW titles appeal, although I said that about Avengers!) but great new titles never seem to stop arriving at everyone's favourite Poole-based store so I'm optimistic for 2013. I guess Jeff Lemire's new one is unlikely to be anything less than perfect!

You beat me to the point I was going to make to Ian - you gave The New 52 plenty of coverage. I'm personally more of a DC and Image reader but I'm not the one giving up my time to write reviews so I'll take whatever you guys write! Besides in many ways its best to read reviews of the stuff you DON'T buy.

walkeri said...

Point taken Matt and thanks for the article you did on The New Mutants and the reviews you've been doing since,as that's one back issue of a comic I've now added to my list to buy next year.
Any chance that you may do an article on British Marvel Comics that I'm sure most of us all grew up on,and an article on Rom Spaceknight would be fantastic.
Have a great Christmas Matt.