27 Jan 2013

Mini Reviews 27/01/2013

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: Kieron Gillen
Art: Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I’m coming to this new series due to Gillen’s name on the credits and Loki’s appearance in the cast list, as I’m one of those guys who thinks the writer’s work with the character in Journey Into Mystery produced some of the finest comics to come out of the Marvel stable in the last few years. I’ve also developed a lot of affection for Kate Bishop thanks to her appearances in Hawkeye, so there’s that too. I do have to say though that the Children’s Crusade miniseries didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm for keeping track of this team’s adventures after their sterling debut series, but I’m hoping Gillen can shake things up and provide a fresh perspective. The signs are promising, but this wasn’t a complete ‘win’ for me. To be fair, there’s not much I can find to criticize beyond an overall impression that it just felt too brief. The characterization’s perceptive, the art’s clean and emotive and there’s bags of potential on display, but at the point where things really start to getting going we hit ‘To be continued…’. Perhaps a double-sized opener may have sealed the deal, but I can’t deny I want to see what happens next, so at this stage I’m giving it a tentative thumbs up. 7/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Riley Rossmo & John-Paul Csuka
Image $3.50

Stewart R: First issue was bewildering and engrossing.  Second issue lost me a little and seemed to throw out the intensity of the debut. Now this third issue brings things back on track a touch and proves to be quite the compelling read.  Only the briefest of insights into Madder Red’s bizarre ‘rehabilitation’ helps to indicate just how much of a whack-job the murderous villain was back in the day before his treatment and allows what follows to be an intriguing piece of psychological crime fiction. Mister Press is brilliantly scripted by Spencer as a well-meaning individual with clear issues that prevent him from being properly understood or trusted by his law enforcement hosts. I really did enjoy the back and forth that he and Detective Acevedo share which occasionally has them on completely different tracks to each other as they both try to solve the spate of murders that have gripped the city.  That’s where the draw lies in Bedlam; thanks to the scattered flashbacks of Madder Red’s past we get to see things from the (former) villain’s viewpoint and get to see the police surrounded by the fog of assumption and doubt, and even with our insider knowledge there’s still a big slice of mystery to the proceedings. Rossmo turns in another strong effort with his wavering depiction of Press - one moment all doe-eyed, followed by an unnerving smirk or sneer appearing on his face in distance and medium shots - helping to sow the seed of doubt when it comes to this bizarre protagonist. Solid stuff.  8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice, Brian Thies, Jordie Bellaire & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99

Matt C
: And so Ed Brubaker’s time at Marvel comes to an end... for now. Having not only redefined the Sentinel Of Liberty for the 21st century and done the impossible by bringing back Bucky from the dead in such an ingenious way that fans were lauding him rather than clamouring for his blood, he steps away to focus on creator-owned work. This series has been a solid continuation of his preference for espionage-tinged superheroics as well as expanding the Winter Soldier’s backstory, placing particular emphasis on his relationship with Black Widow, something he ties up here (albeit not so neatly), meaning it’s unlikely anyone will come and undo his good work any time soon (one hopes!). The clandestine tone of the book has really, really benefited from the visuals of Butch Guice, with Bettie Breitweiser’s colours well deserving of recognition too. Dark, moody, and always aware that a rain-drenched panel in the right context can add so much power to the proceedings, Guice has done an enormous amount of work defining how the Winter Soldier looks following on from Steve Epting’s original designs.  Reaching the last page of this issue it is arguable that Brubaker never quite matched his original, classic run on Captain America (up to the Death Of Captian America storyline), but there’s absolutely no question that he’s made a significant and lasting impact on the Marvel Universe. His contributions will be missed.  9/10

Stewart R: And so Brubaker’s reign as Bucky Barnes and Captain America writer extraordinaire comes to an end with Winter Soldier #14. It’s a fitting finale for a story where the author has been unwavering in his stance on the protagonist’s constant battle to find anything close to happiness in the face of his painful and tortured past.  Butch Guise, inker Theis and colourists Bellaire and the ever consistent Breitweiser have played a remarkable part in ensuring that the Black Widow Hunt has remained one of the most visually foreboding comic arcs that I’ve read for several years. Brubaker’s pulse-driving, heart-punching script is constantly wrapped in their fantastic combination of brooding characterisation and menacing hues. And what a script it is, full of tension, remorse and frustrated anger as Bucky hunts his prize and fears failure and what it could cost him and his love.  As expected, Brubaker wraps his end of things up - Jason Latour and Nick Klein will carry the baton from #15 - with his recognisable brand of emotional realism brought to a superhero’s world and I personally think it’s a true success. Well done sir, well done team and thank you for the past 8 and a bit years!  9/10

Writer: Sam Humphries
Art: Ron Garney, Danny Miki, Marte Garcia Israel Gonzalez
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’ll admit I was apprehensive about picking this up after Remender’s definitive run on the title (because, really, how do you follow that??), but I was relieved to find I actually liked this quite a bit. It’s not nearly as gloomy as the previous series, which is a wise decision if it’s going to establish its own identity, and there’s enough fallout from what happened to the previous team to keep it appealing to existing fans, while at the same time being welcoming enough to newbies. The problem is that it will need to make its mark very swiftly in a marketplace where multiple other X-books are vying for readers’ attention. Humphries’s plot drops enough hints at potential and Garney is, as ever, a consummate professional, so although I wasn’t firmly convinced by this opener (although it is a lot better than the debut issue of Cable And X-Force) I’m happy to give it a little time to win me over.  7/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse Comics $3.99

James R: Long-time readers of this blog will know how much I love this title, and after a very brief hiatus, it's great to see Matt Kindt back with a full-powered issue that demonstrates why this book is a must-read. The formula is the same; Meru remains the unwitting pawn in Henry Lyme's war (or is it?) with his former employers, the deeply mysterious Mind MGMT. As she's continued to dig up - or recover - information about her father and how the Agency works, we are given terrific short tales that highlight the powers of the various field operatives; in this case it's Brinks, the Ad man with an ability that would make Mad Men's Don Draper weep with envy. As always with Mind MGMT, that's not the whole story, Kindt has now taken to loading the edges of his pages with secondary story as well as the Mind MGMT field notes. It adds up to a package that could only work as a comic, and it works brilliantly. At the New York Comic Con, Brian K Vaughn was asked if he saw his sci-fi series Saga being made into a movie. He wisely replied "Why does everything have to be turned into something else? We don't look at a painting and say 'Wow, that would make a great TV show!' - why do it with comics?" With this title, it's a joy to read as the love and attention from Kindt is present on every page. Some might simply say "This is like a great spy TV show" - but trust me, it's far more than that, it's a comic that stretches the medium and as a result it's a title I implore everyone to check out.  9/10

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

Matt C: A thoroughly satisfying ending to what has been the clear winner of the entire Before Watchmen enterprise.  It’s a testament to Cooke’s skill as a storyteller that he made something that was respectful to the original without being shackled or fearful of it, and he’s produced a tale that was compelling and unexpected in its own right. Understandably it does make frequent reference to Moore and Gibbon’s opus, but unlike the majority of the other series it never really felt like it was simply covering and expanding on familiar ground. The writing was intelligent, dangerous and felt authentic, while the artwork was beautifully composed, with Cooke utilizing the familiar 9-panel grid to often startling effect. No, it’s not as good as Watchmen (not much is!) but it is more than worthy to sit on your bookshelf beside it. When rumblings of this project were first heard in early 2010, I briefly noted how I would like to see Darwyn Cooke taking on the Minutemen – obviously I had no inside knowledge back then, but people in the DC offices must have been thinking the same thing. At the time, he was the only guy I imagined could bring along something new to the property, especially if he applied his style to the Minutemen. Although Before Watchmen: Minutemen is now done there are still several minis due for completion, but I’ve got a feeling my initial reaction in 2010 was bang on the money. 8/10

James R: In a week of frankly superb comics, it was incredibly hard to pick a book of the week, but I've gone for Minutemen, as having re-read it (and the preceding issues) not only am I appreciating it more and more, but I also believe that it managed to achieve the same high watermark set by the original. In this concluding chapter, Cooke pulls a brilliant switch, letting us believe the tale of Hollis Mason had a very neat conclusion before subverting it entirely. In the same way that the original highlighted the difficulty of acting ethically in a world where individuals act as vigilantes, Cooke here shows that 'truth' is equally slippery when defending the American Way. Each of the chapters have been wonderful self-contained stories in and of themselves, and so is this issue Cooke deftly finishes the story with aplomb, leaving the tale one that adds to, rather than eroding the legendary status of Moore & Gibbon's masterwork. If DC had just stuck to this series as the only Before Watchmen, I think the project may have been considered more favourably; whereas the other titles have a slightly desperate, cash-in feel to them, Minutemen has felt like a work of art. I had one minor quibble about the actions of one of the characters when I first read this, but our very own Matt C made me realise that in fact, Cooke has shown a great understanding of the characters, and just the right amount of respect. As a foaming-at-the-mouth Watchmen fanatic, I set the highest standards for this book - I think it achieved them with style and intelligence, and I can think of no higher praise. 10/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: David López, Alvaro López, Morry Hollowell & James Campbell
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: And so, with the lethal freak Frankenstein circus now chased out of town, things on WATXM return to normal service...to a degree.  Aaron takes this momentary chance for breath to look closely at some of the romantic threads that have been weaving through X-titles over the past few years including a couple that he himself is responsible for.  The successes are Kitty and Bobby’s date, which has the two elder X-Men debating on whether people in their position ever get to have a normal love life, and Idie’s pining for a comatose Broo, a relationship that has been at the heart of this title since day one. The remainder is a tad patchy at best and it’s not entirely down to Aaron. I do question his decision to have Logan and Storm hook up - no spoiler, it’s on the dang cover! - as that just seems like treading over old and rather obvious ground.  And then there’s the overflowing mess from Bendis’ All New X-Men the seeps in like a dose of undesirable pus, with Quentin Quire getting flirty with time-warped young Jean Grey and the new form Beast ignoring girlfriend Agent Brand. I understand that the greater Marvel and X-Men universe is always going to be a part of a book such as this, but it’s still disappointing for plotlines you truly HATE to turn up in books that had just hit a dip and needed a lift. The art from López and López also doesn’t hit the mark for me either, possibly being down to the lighter inking style that Alvaro uses. Not a drop from the pull-list yet, but now I’m thinking about it.  6/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: John Cassaday & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’m still not completely sold on this book, and so far Hickman’s work with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has been a lot better, but the cachet it possesses is keeping me around for now, as well as smattering of hints that it could quite swiftly launch itself into the stratosphere. It’s not close yet, but those bright moments are really powerful, and most of them come when Remender’s words mesh perfectly with Cassaday’s visuals to create panels that simply bristle with energy. There are still problems though. The Red Skull’s plan seems half-baked at best, like he’s playing all his cards way too early in the game. Then there’s some characterization that feels completely off base, particularly when it comes to that of Captain America (which is weird when you think Remender is writing Cap’s solo book, although some could say he doesn’t seem quite himself there either). And then there’s the sense that Uncanny Avengers hasn’t quite found the right balance between being an Avengers book and an X-Men book at the same time. I did quite like that Remender seemed to be aping (and contemporizing) Chris Claremont’s style of verbose narration thoroughout the issue, although I’m not sure whether it was intentional or not. It worked, regardless. I’m sticking around for the time being but this is not nearly the slam dunk it should have been. 7/10

James R: In the same way that Hickman's New Avengers hit its stride last week, it's now the turn of Remender's Avengers book to kick into gear. The first two issues have been slightly disjointed affairs as Remender established his team and the threat of the Red Skull. This chapter sees the writer that made Uncanny X-Force such a revelation demonstrate the same magic touch found in that title. This has a wonderful cinematic feel with each of the characters being given a scene and a great narrative from Remender as the Red Skull's forces clash with the Uncanny Avengers. At the same time there's a great sense of panic and dread from the pages that you don't see in a lot of other mainstream books and for the first time I felt like this title was starting to achieve its own identity. It obviously helps when you have an art team of the caliber of Cassaday and Martin on board - I know they won't be able to keep up the pace that a monthly title demands (this book was late), but it's hard to begrudge such spellbinding pages and a coupled with a brilliant cover too. Part of me feels that Tom Breevort is playing some insane high-stakes game with his Avengers titles, crowding the market with Avengers product - understandable given that there was some film out with them in or something - but as long as the books are this good, I'll keep picking them up! (I will be happy to skip a meal a week to keep reading Uncanny Avengers. Fact!) 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Jerome Opeña, Dean White, Frank Martin & Richard Isanove
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: With the end of the opening arc, it seems pretty clear that Hickman’s going to be playing with things in broad strokes with this title. It’s about blockbusting spectacle, layered with intelligence, and character development doesn’t seem like it will be a major focus. But that’s okay, and kind of how it should be, as this is a team that deals with the biggest threats that face the planet, so quiet, character-driven interludes are likely to be few and far between (you’ve got to New Avengers for that). It’s all about whether a writer can nail the essence of a certain individual within a few brief panels, or with a couple of sentences, and so far I think Hickman’s doing a fine job. Others may see this book as being overcrowded, however I’d argue the A-listers, the ones that really matter, have their own outlets for private adventures already on the shelves. You buy this book because you want to be wowed by the scale of the action, and when it’s being delivered with such dynamic precision by Opeña I can’t imagine there being a multitude of complaints. Hickman has set an impressive ball rolling here, and if it continues to build its momentum like this, it may very well be unstoppable. 9/10

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

Stewart R:  Top class ‘What The Fudge Is Going On?’ drama abounds in Brian Woods’ The Massive this month as a tropical storm hits both the Kapital and the nearby converted oil platform-cum-country, Moksha Station in the Indian Ocean with most of the crew under guard or close watch onboard.  The uncertainty on where this plot is headed makes for a real page turner as every single member of Calum Israel’s crew seem to have a very different agenda to that of their captain.  Showing us Israel’s disbelief and attempts to persuade his captors that he has no idea what is occurring and why, allows Wood to once again delve into the backstory of this expanding cast and show that the world has changed and so have many of the people in it.  I love how Wood brings in little expositional drops of detail here and there to flesh out this picture of a planet in meltdown and he, Garry Brown and Dave Stewart definitely know how to make a page of people conversing an enthralling reading experience before we even get to the stormy seascapes and battered rusting refuges. I’m constantly happy to see this turn up in any week’s delivery and long may that last.  8/10

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

Matt C: After their South American escapades, the New Mutants are back home in Westchester under the ever watchful eye of Charles Xavier, who introduces latest recruit Amara to his School for Gifted Youngsters. Naturally, being a hormonal teenager, her attempts to fit in to her new home don’t pass by without some literal fireworks, and this aspect of the plot is relatively effective even if it’s something we’ve seen numerous times before, with more interesting characters. Far more involving is the appearance of Kitty Pride, from her friction with the New Mutants (seeing them as “X-Babies” even though they’re roughly the same age) to some War Games era attempts at hacking into the covert anti-mutant Project Widewake. The art’s serviceable this issue, some flashes of excellence shining through, but really this is far from the most interesting chapter in the lives of this formative mutant team so far. 6/10

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