7 Jan 2013

Mini Reviews 06/01/2013

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: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This wasn’t quite what I was expecting, or indeed hoping for. Obviously I’d anticipated that this relaunch would exist in the shadows away from its majestic sister-title, Avengers, but was it really necessary for Hickman to make this debut issue quite so opaque. Now, I’ve read a lot of comics in my time (oh my, so many comics) so I think I’m somewhat qualified to say that I’ve rarely seen a major title from the Big Two as head-scratchingly vague as this. Yes, an element (or elements) of mystery is required when dealing with the Illuminati, but there’s also – you would think – an obligation to the reader to actually make them eager to unravel it, not leave them confused. I’m probably going to have to give this another look to figure it all out but if I wasn’t aware that Hickman plays the long game, and thus want to give him a bit of leeway in that regard, then I doubt I’d be going beyond this initial instalment. Epting’s art was the highlight for me here, as robust and commanding as it’s ever been, but there were several panels that only served to make an already confusing narrative even more perplexing. Hopefully things will become clearer next time as I’d prefer this to be a stumble at the starting line rather than an ongoing disappointment. 5/10

James R: I find there's something fascinating about the whole 'Illuminati' concept. As comics fans, we often have an interesting relationship with suspension of disbelief. On one hand, we're happy to embrace worlds protected by men and women with nigh-omnipotence who never kill, but yet we all cry foul when they're not portrayed correctly, or that the 'Rules' of the comics world are broken. This is where the Illuminati come into play. It seems like an incredibly natural story idea - if you had seven super-geniuses capable of changing the world, it makes perfect sense that they'd work together! But yet when they do... something's just not right about it! I was willing to think that this may be due to the Bendis factor last time out, and if anyone can make the concept work it will be Jonathan Hickman. He handles big ideas brilliantly, and any man who can dream up an A.I. FDR hellbent on world domination (over in the pages of Manhattan Projects) can certainly think of plots wild enough to keep Marvel's powerhouses and super-intellects busy. So far, it's looking like Hickman on the main Avengers title is a solid smash, but here I'm not so convinced. Whereas Avengers #1 was a brilliant mission-statement and a great introduction, this felt like Hickman trying to do something wilfully different. The opening chapter with Black Panther felt plodding and by-the-numbers, and I saw no reason why this particular global threat (as opposed to the plethora of global threats faced on a weekly basis on the 616 Earth) would send T'Challa back to the Illuminati. I've also seen stronger work from Steve Epting, and I'm not sure if his art is the right fit for this book. As for the threat, no doubt we'll learn more next month, but this certainly didn't grab me like I hoped it would. I'll give it a couple more issues, but the jury remains out on the Illuminati.   6/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe & Heather Breckel
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: We’re bordering very close to a review of every single issue of this mutant, monster lizard-centric comic book series and when you’re consistently hitting the high notes in terms of writing and artistic quality I say ‘rightly so!’  Stokoe yanks us further forward by a decade to the mid eighties and a Bombay setting where Godzilla is once again tearing things up with radiation breath and giant footprints. It’s a naturally running theme for this series and Godzilla books in general that the destruction is constant, but it’s testament to Stokoe’s eye for detail and huge variety when it comes to panel use and angles that makes every chapter feel fresh.  This time we get two further cameos by members of the Kaiju (giant monster) family which deliver on the fan service, yet also allow Stokoe to actually have the middle aged Ota finally interact on some level with his quarry. While the initial payoff is to see the various monsters duke it out in a city setting, the underlying plot of black market technology and weapons dealing is bringing it all together and ensuring that a short series spanning several decades is remaining cohesive and incredibly readable. One issue to go and this already has to be one of the very best series that IDW has ever released. 9/10

Writer: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art: Marcus To, Ryan Winn, Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato & Ian Herring
DC $2.99

James R: The general consensus amongst the PCG is that DC's relaunch has pretty much ground to a halt. Outside of Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, there are precious few books that are must-reads, and a 'New beginning' has quickly returned to a mediocre slate of titles. However, there are some diamonds in the rough, and once again, it's Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato who have produced a comic that stopped me in my tracks, and had me pouring over its intricate and beautiful pages. The first few pages are very much filler - as Grodd's invasion of Central City becomes an occupation, we see how the title's supporting characters and rogues are fighting for survival or planning a fightback. These are fine, and Marcus To and Ryan Winn's art moves the story on well enough. After that though, the art is taken on by Manapul and Buccellato, and it is astonishing. The Flash lies unconscious, and we see his inner world. At first Barry thinks he is seeing memories, but then realises that he's seeing things which are yet to happen. What follows is seven linked pages that show three possible futures for Barry. As they unfold, two collapse as they show the Flash's death - but the one that remains shows the Flash what he has to do to defeat Grodd. I loved this, because as much as I love it when a comic tells as solid, well-crafted tale, I equally flip out over a writer or artist using the medium to do something that's only achievable in comics. If every DC title had the ambition of Manapul and Buccellato’s Flash, it really would be remarkable. As it is, I can only recommend that if you want to see mainstream comics pushing boundaries, you can do worse than check in with the Scarlet Speedster. 9/10

Writer: Simon Roy
Art: Simon Roy
Image $3.99

Matt C: Brandon Graham steps back for an issue to allow artist Simon Roy to take on full creative duties, and happily there no signs of a dip in quality at all. In fact, it’s another masterful slab of sci-fi weaved into the arresting tapestry that is the revamped version of Prophet, featuring an abundance of fascinating, imaginative ideas that mesh together brilliantly, creating a skilfully realised universe. Some may find the lack of a driving narrative in this series testing, but those with a bit more patience will delight in the steady steps the story is taking, bringing to life exotic worlds populated by engaging characters. Roy’s illustrations are inventive, passionate and absorbing, his use of fierce colours making every panel erupt with energy. The uniqueness of Prophet continues to be one of its many compelling qualities, and long may that continue. 8/10

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

Stewart R: By far the best installment of the series to date succeeds thanks to the expectation that Gillen threaded through the previous two chapters; there were suggestions that there was one unsavoury confrontation that Tony was actively looking to avoid until the end in his hunt to destroy the scattered Extremis kits and it turns out to be quite the entertaining curveball that the writer has thrown.  The ideas that get addressed here are superb arguments for the use of the Extremis tech and in the space of just half an issue I’m already hankering for Gillen to have Tony revisit this highly interesting orbital facility at some point again in the near future.  What the situation presently allows for though is the very best soul searching and analysing from our hero as he looks at the benefits and pitfalls of everything before him and then makes the decision he knows to be right.  From here we finally see the reasoning that will see the armour-clad hero jet off into space in search of new adventures and while the whirlwind delivery of issues has been a touch frustrating for many it’s clear to see now why there was such urgency considering that Guardians of the Galaxy is just a month or so away.  It’s clear at this juncture that Gillen has a very good grasp of Tony Stark and I’m certainly onboard for the 'Godkiller' arc.  8/10

Writer Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Stuart Immomen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Craig Yeung, Marte Gracia & Jason Keith
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: Almost in keeping with this theme of this title, I'm conflicted over All-New X-Men. To start with, let's focus on the positives: at its heart, Bendis is setting up a really good X-book here. As I said in my review of the last issue, I love the idea of Scott Summers starting up a rival school to the Jean Grey Academy, and the battle for the hearts and minds of the new emerging mutants is a fantastic idea. Going back to Lee and Kirby's original title, this comic has always been about teenagers, outsiders, growing up and acceptance, and so I think Bendis is heading in the right direction. It continues to look amazing, and I'm impressed that we're already at issue five, and either Immomen is working superhumanly fast or, for once, Marvel have wisely got a fair few issues in the can before soliciting them. That's all the positives, and as for the negatives - well, if you're a reader who checks out other comics sites and blogs, I'm sure you would have heard some of them already. I was willing to let the whole 'Let's play with the timeline' thing slide if it lead to great storytelling, but it's now getting past the point of ridiculousness. In this issue, Beast allows the young Jean to see her entire life to come! Our own Stewart R has a theory as to why he might be doing this, but I still felt a sense of incredulity reading this - a feeling that returned when I saw Jean state that they will stay in the future to "Put things the way they're supposed to be." How does she know how things are supposed to be?! We've said many times before that one of the problems with Bendis is that he pursues plots of his own design with scant regard for either history or consequences, and I'm worried to see this trend starting to creep in here. I still enjoyed All-New X-Men, and the good certainly outweighs the bad, but some grim portents just can't be ignored. 7/10

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

Stewart R: And so we reach the last chapter of the series and perhaps it should be known as ‘The Book of Revelations’ as far as Punk Rock Jesus is concerned as piles of truth fly in all directions and the light of knowledge and the darkness of destruction are cast around in generous amounts.  Series creator Sean Murphy has done a fine job of running the story of Thomas’ troubled upbringing and history as a member of the IRA alongside Chris’ troubled upbringing and fight against organised religion and the company responsible for his birth and I enjoyed how the pair’s relationship is ultimately defined here by their separate journeys and their quiet dependence upon each other.  Artistically Murphy brings everything to this last issue delivering frenetic action sequences and moments of high emotion and I could look at his artwork all day long. As good as this finale is there are a few instances of plot confusion - I went through much of the series believing Chris to be a substitute baby with the ‘twin’ revelation really catching me by surprise, and I’m not sure about the doctor’s pseudopregnancy either while we're at it - and the ending, while arguably a just one, feels a bit too raw and slightly out of place for a story that worked best when it was hanging back a little from the OTT precipice.  The one thing about the minor flaws though, and a clear sign that this has been a true success, is that they make me want to read back through the whole thing now!  Get it in trade, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  8/10

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

Stewart R: I'm a little bit in love with this comic book series and it seems that every month the DnA writing collaboration are giving us something a little different from your regular team title.  The way that this issue starts really did take me by surprise when it turns out to be an origin story which offers a delightful insight into one prominent character and also provides some background on why the tragedy at 28 Kosov occured and what the greater implications for the Hypernaturals and the rest of the universe might be.  I'm enjoying the way that these writers tread that thin line between bewildering plot information and measured, masterful exposition with great skill that really makes this a science fiction bonanza to put others to shame.  Admittedly the need to go high level with much of the plot can occasionally see character development take a backseat - which it certainly does here save for the aforementioned introductory flashback - but I know they'll be making up for it within an issue or two and as a series The Hypernaturals is a wonderfully balanced example of intelligent yet accessible sci-fi.  8/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Tom Mandrake & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: If the number of hidden cities featured in the Marvel Universe across the years actually existed in the real world then in all likelihood I’d be able to see one from my window as I type this, such is their ubiquity. So we have a Roman city tucked away in the Amazon, which is all well and good, but this issue also introduces a death cult sacrificing young girls to ancient gods, and it starts to feel incredibly piecemeal. It’s still a fun read but with contemporary eyes it does look like it’s not found its own identity yet, and if this were to come out now I imagine it would have seen the axe fall already. But that’s with contemporary eyes though, and having only read a handful of later issues in the past I do have faith, considering how long it lasted and how well regarded it is, that it will hit its stride sooner or later. Otherwise I’ll have to admit I picked the wrong book for my project, and I don’t want to be doing that! 6/10


Andy H said...

It's a funny old world. I wasn't expecting much from NEW AVENGERS #1 but actually came away really enjoyng it. Go figure!

walkeri said...

Nice review guys and I have to kind of agree with you on the New Avengers,but I'll stick with it to see where they go with it,but for me the best comic out last week that I brought with my hard earned cash was Morbius The Living Vampire and surprisingly it's a Marvel Now comic [had know idea that was going on],great new take on Morbius which is quite removed from the Midnight Sons version of him but still retaining all the things I love about this character,so check this one out if you can and if you like it try DC's I,Vampire another great comic that may not be burning up the sales chart put as DC has shown
put in in a trade and it's hitting the top 10,next time I'll review Hawkeye [only joking].