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21 Jan 2013

Mini Reviews 20/01/2013

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.

NEW AVENGERS #2
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: To paraphrase the old saying, what a difference a couple of weeks makes! The first issue of this relaunch left me somewhat perplexed, as though not enough effort was being made in enrapturing new readers by making the mystery of the plot a little too mysterious. But I have faith in Hickman, and that faith has been rewarded with a sterling second issue, one that’s good enough to make its predecessor seem a lot better in hindsight. The ‘mystery’ is now revealed, and it seems that after a catastrophic event in one universe, other universe are collapsing in on one another around the focal point of Earth, with the 616 Universe due to face the same fate very shortly. T’Challa originally rejected the idea of the Illuminati, believing no good could come from the formation of such a group, and while he hasn’t exactly changed his mind, desperate times call for desperate measures.  An impending sense of doom pervades this issue, which is mostly taken up with a bunch of guys (albeit guys with superpowers) sitting in a darkened room discussing how to prevent the apocalypse. It’s all very portentous, but Hickman pulls it off by having the intelligence to back up his BIG! SCIENCE! IDEAS! In a lot of ways he’s stolen Warren Ellis’ thunder in modern superhero comics as he likes dealing with the same grand themes, and Ellis seems to have backed off from the genre in recent years.  Epting’s very good at doing ‘ominous’ on the page, and a few wonky facial expression aside, he does a fine job of backing up the intended tone of Hickman’s script. I had been preparing myself to bail out after this issue but I’m really glad to say I had totally the opposite reaction and will certainly be back for more. 9/10


James R: I like to think I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong, and with issue #2 of New Avengers, Jonathan Hickman shows how wrong I was to be critical of this title! After the first issue which I felt was a little underwhelming, this chapter not only hits the ground running, but shows that he's got the intelligence to make the Illuminati concept work. We learn that the 616 Earth is under threat from both the contraction of the multiverse and an incursion of another Earth into that dimension. Hickman balances the big science with some great character interplay, and he writes each of the Illuminati with a distinct voice (something Bendis struggled with when he wrote the Illuminati series).  I loved that Hickman raises some big ethical issues here, and if this is a taste of things to come, then this could become Marvel's most intelligent book for a long time. Credit too for the art of Steve Epting, which was back to its best in this issue.  I still feel that the book isn't the natural fit for his talents, but he does a fine job here. A smart, compelling read, and with his work on the other Avengers book, it looks like Hickman has got a firm grip on Marvel's big hitters. It's nice to be proved wrong every now and then! 8/10

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #16
Writer: Chris Yost
Art: Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco & Dave Curiel
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: When you play around with the very nature of a top comic book character as Dan Slott has done with Spider-Man over these past three months, it’s extremely important that any other writer who gets to deal with that character holds up their part of the plan and ensures that the voice and depiction are as accurate and consistent as possible. Chris Yost did a fine job with Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 and he returns with a similarly superb offering with #16.  He brings the X-Men in for the fun and games, linking their involvement to the recent rise in mutant cases following the Avengers Vs X-Men storyline, and this allows for some terrific interaction between our new wall-crawler and the mutants who have partnered with Spider-Man before, but are taken aback by his current actions and mannerisms.  Yost makes sure that the psychic issue that Rachel Grey represents is dealt with accordingly, while also utilising it to get the best out of Wolverine being present - certainly Octavius’ Spidey being less-than-willing to let the gruff furball get away with his usual treatment of the previously doubting and restrained webslinger is the high point and allows Paco Medina to display his terrific artistic talents. To be honest I’m a little surprised that Medina isn’t on the recurring rotation on Superior considering his style, but while he and Yost are coming up with Avenging Spider-Man issues of this high a quality then I’ll continue to pick this up anyway!  9/10

BLACK BEETLE #1
Writer: Francesco Francavilla
Art: Francesco Francavilla
Dark Horse $3.99


Matt C: There's nothing you'll see in Black Beetle #1, as the titular hero investigates criminal wrongdoings in the 1940s, that you won't have seen before a number of times over the years, but as is often the case with the genre, it's not so much the level of originality on display but the way it's delivered. Francavilla delivers this tale with such style and unbridled enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to be swept along by it. So, while there may be a succession of familiar tropes being deployed, it's how the writer/artist captures the action on the page that makes Black Beetle such a winner. With some evocative 'camera' angles , along  with the judicious use of a colour palette that leans heavily on reds, blacks a deep blues, Francavilla  brings this fantastically noirish landscape to vibrant life, and marks him out as an increasingly important talent in the industry. 8/10

TODD, THE UGLIEST KID ON EARTH #1
Writer: Ken Kristensen & M.K. Perker
Art: M.K. Perker & Cemal Soyleyen
Image $2.99


Stewart R: Image is definitely the home of weird comic book comedy these days and in Todd, TUKOE they may well have found a glorious new crevice from which twisted fun can ooze.  From the first couple of pages it’s clear that Perker’s pencilling hand delivers a fine line in deformed characterisation with the huge majority of the cast quite easily described as ‘ugly’, which then adds further fun when wondering just what Todd must look like under his cardboard box mask.  Kristensen’s dialogue is sharp and crude in parts without going overboard and it’s just enough to make the surrounding cast detestable in the most readable of ways.  Todd is a strange innocent soul in the ugliest and most bizarre of worlds and as murderous events unfold around him, everything seems geared for him to be dragged into the centre of things without lifting a finger. It could have so easily been a debut that missed its intended mark; erring too far towards unlikable characters would have resulted in an instant deterrent to the reader while taking a softer, less abrasive tone would have potentially left it an underwhelming read to be lost amongst all of the other offerings from Image that scream out to be read.  Luckily, the creators look to have their sights set on success and with this weird comic they might just find it.  8/10

BATMAN #16
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
DC $3.99


James R: I was hugely tempted to just write: 'Batman punches a horse' but that would be a disservice to the myriad joys this book offers to a Bat-fan. In this issue, the scale of the Joker's plan is revealed, and it is as twisted and as dark as you'd imagine from Batman's nemesis. I've mentioned before that I agree with Grant Morrison's appraisal of why Batman is such a great character - he's open to a huge wealth of interpretations all of which serve to enrich him. What I'm starting to see in Snyder's run is a Batman that features a lot of the best interpretations of the character fused together. In this issue, there were hints of Frank Miller, Nolan's Dark Knight movies, and even Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' work in the ‘70s. On top of that, Snyder starts to bring in some of Batman's other famous rogues (something teased in the back-up pages of previous weeks) which adds up to a comic that grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go even after you've read the last. Snyder is still absolutely on top of his game, and it's brilliant to read. Once again Capullo & Glapion's art matches the high-quality script - a special mention to the colours Plascencia, which convey the necessary darks but then a terrifically sickly palette as the issue progresses. And finally, Batman punches a horse! Worth the price of admission alone, frankly, and this is still the best book DC are producing right now. 9/10

BATMAN AND ROBIN #16
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Keith Champagne & John Kalisz
DC $2.99


Stewart R
: Following on from last month’s supreme effort, Tomasi gets down to the nitty gritty of a Robin vs Batman fight to the death while the Joker provides the running commentary, reinforcing his idea that Batman has been held back for far too long by the rest of his ‘family’ of supporting followers and sidekicks. While the tension never reaches nerve-wracking levels thanks to the rather obvious confines that Tomasi must be working within, the payoff comes from Robin being shown to doubt the actions that he must take to survive his torment and how he must truly fight the killer locked within himself. This internal fight runs in tune with the barbaric fisticuffs that take place upon the page and Gleason excels himself once more, making this jokerfied Batman a terrifying foe, his psychopathic grin being a truly hideous sight as he laughs his way through every sickening punch and blow. There are great panels to be found throughout this issue and it’s a pleasure to watch an artist just grow stronger from month to month.  9/10


COMEBACK #3
Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Michael Walsh & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.50
 
Matt C: This is turning out to be something of a compulsive and rather nifty miniseries dealing with an illegal time-travelling organisation that snatches loved ones prior to their historical deaths, for a price. There's a conspiracy at the heart of the plot and the narrative is well structured and paced, with art that conveys the seedy atmosphere of a situation where things are beginning to unravel, and anything that may capture the attention of the Feds is being dealt with, brutally. You can probably sense a 'but' coming along here, and you'd be right, because although it's a gripping tale, when read in the episodic monthly format it's actually quite difficult to keep up with not only where you are, but when you are! That confusion probably wouldn't be so apparent (if at all) once the collected edition arrives, but for now it's what's preventing me from giving Comeback a whole-heartedly glowing recommendation. 7/10

ALL-NEW X-MEN #6
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: David Marquez & Marte Gracia
Marvel $3.99


James R
: Marvel's fastest comic (#6 already?!) delivers s quality issue this week. The focus is very much on three of the original, time-displaced mutants as we see how they're responding to the present day. The highlight is definitely the confrontation between Wolverine and young Cyclops, and it's interesting to see how the one-time outsider has now accepted the mantle of responsibility. The big surprise though is the art of David Marquez. Following on from the great Stuart Immomen is a daunting task, but Marquez' art is brilliant here. Not only does he do a great job of showing the emotion of the characters, he also fills the book with some nice touches (for example, in the canteen the two Icemen sit opposite one another but are separated by a wall of ice to save them looking at the other). As a whole, I'm still not enraptured by it (I think it's the combination of too many plots, and some elements not being fully realised... yet!) but I'm still entertained, and Bendis has managed to keep my attention for six issues. Not quite outstanding, but certainly much better than I thought it was going to be. 8/10

CRAWLING SKY #1
Writers: Joe R. Lansdale & Keith Lansdale
Art: Brian Denham
Antarctic Press $3.99


Stewart R: Well lookie at what we got ourselves here! A no good upstart of a comic that thinks itself good enough to make it into my fair pull list! Well I might find myself a’hankering to say something about such daring aims.  And that would probably be a resounding ‘by all means, come on in Crawling Sky and make yourself comfortable’ after quite an impressive opening chapter!  This is the sort of Wild West Horror that I can get into, possibly thanks to the shining example that Oni Press’ Sixth Gunn has been up to now, and Crawling Sky definitely strikes out with it’s own sense of style. There’s a brilliant air of brooding mystery that hangs over every page of this opener thanks to Denham’s slightly claustrophobic black and white visuals and the Lansdale’s sparing use of dialogue. The idea of a lurking monstrous threat terrorising helpless townsfolk is nothing new yet it’s the writers keen attention to the slow build that works wonders.  The Reverend’s entrance into town lingers on with some great banter between himself and the loathsome Sheriff and that in turn is followed by a well written explanation on how poor Norville found himself in such a horrendous position with his life now in ruins. It truly is engrossing stuff and I’d happily recommend to anyone that they give this a try if they’ve a spare $3.99 in their pocket this week and fancy some polished horror fiction. 8/10

SAGA #9
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Image $2.99

 
Matt C: I don't think Saga has ever managed to sustain the sheer jaw-dropping brilliance of its opening instalment but it has settled nicely into a groove of being a very, very good series. It's a huge drama placed on a large canvas that initially (thanks to some of the visual ingenuity of Staples) feels entirely otherworldly until you engage with the cast of characters and realise that, no matter what they may look like, they're fully relatable, believable and, well, human. That's the element that provides the emotional connectivity but it's the level of creativity that really impresses, and clearly Vaughan is thoroughly inspired by this rich tapestry he's created. So, while it may not have matched its opening salvo, there's plenty of evidence on display that it could very well reach those heights again, and soon. 8/10

NEW MUTANTS #12
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Tom Mandrake & George Roussos
Marvel $0.60

 
Matt C: This issue starts off on strong footing with Robert DaCosta confronting his father, making a good stab at conveying the father-son dynamic as the son edges closer to adulthood and learns that his parent has the same human failings as the rest of us. It’s followed by a scene with Amara and her father, with Claremont doing something thematically interesting by approaching the relationships teens have with their parents from different angles. It then shifts to Amara losing her marbles and control of her new powers, the New Mutants springing into action to calm her down, and as the focus shifts to action the story becomes less involving and more pedestrian. It does highlight that they key factor in the title’s success is when it emphasises that its cast are growing into adults, and all that implies, so when it spotlights that, it works, and when it does the whole rote superhero thing, it becomes indistinguishable from a lot of other books from the era. 7/10

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