3 Feb 2013

Mini Reviews 03/02/2013

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: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carlos Magno & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: There’s certainly no let up in terms of quality and mystery from Jenkins and Magno in this second instalment of BOOM!’s latest title of promise. With the setup established in #1, Jenkins goes about showing how some of the Supes, Neuts and Fears go about dealing (or not) with their situation and certain parties begin their initial attempts to solve the mystery of their captivity and seemingly unavoidable destruction. What’s truly enjoyable about the way that Jenkins is approaching this is that the actual death matches themselves are clearly a secondary consideration - albeit well depicted and brutal when necessary from a top-of-his-game Carlos Magno - and it’s the interaction between all of these ‘victims’ that carries the heart of the story. In just the space of two issues he’s managed to deliver applause-worthy levels of characterisation that really is going to make the majority of lethal ends really resonate as they gradually come to pass. I also get the feeling that he may be lulling us into a slightly false sense of security when it comes to certain protagonist-types and the fact that I’m uncertain as to how he sees this series panning out is half the fun. Might be calling this one a little early, however I feel I must declare that BOOM! have another hit on their hands. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Adam Kubert & Frank D'Armata
Marvel $3.99

James R: Last week I said that Marvel's policy of multiple issues in a month was fine as long as the output was quality, and this week it is great to see that quality in spades in Avengers. Jonathan Hickman turns in a fantastically sophisticated script that deals with the aftermath of the first three-issue arc and yet moves the story on. Under Bendis' reign, I felt that once an arc was done with it was all but forgotten the next month. Hickman's scripts are far more organic with a real sense of verisimilitude to them (well, as much as scripts featuring ultra-powered people can have!). Hickman also rotates the roster of characters nicely, and this book has a wonderfully epic feel to it. Best of all though is that, as we've seen before with Hickman, he thinks big. In recounting how Hyperion came to be on the 616 Earth, he ties in the plot of New Avengers which sees the Illuminati trying to stop a reality-destroying force. As a shameless geek, I utterly love a plot nod that rewards your knowledge, and the whole comic felt a class above anything else I read this week. I was sad that there wasn't more from Opena and White on art duties, but Kubert and D'Armata do a fine job - the sequence featuring Hyperion surviving the collapse of his Universe was particularly striking. Sophisticated and intelligent storytelling in every way, and I can't get enough of this! I hope Hickman has got a very long-term plan for his Avengers books, I'm certainly on board for the duration. 9/10

Writer: Peter J.Tomasi
Art: Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes & John Kalisz
DC $4.99

Stewart R: Two annuals from DC in one week, from arguably their two best performing ‘parts’ of the DC Universe, is usually asking a little too much of the comic-buying public, but just as Peter J.Tomasi delivered an ‘essential’ read with his Green Lantern Corps annual, he rolls up his sleeves and dishes out a fine Batman And Robin annual as well! While this one-shot does not involve any ongoing plot threads as such - the current ‘Death of the Family’ arc makes that somewhat difficult - it does get to the very heart of Bruce and Damian’s attempts to get to know each other better as father and son. What’s particularly pleasing is seeing Damian’s plot to reunite his father with a seemingly lost sense of nostalgia and connection to his family, past and present, bear real fruit as the usually gruff and straight talking Wayne mellows over the course of his treasure hunt, whilst the unnervingly capable younger Wayne patrols the streets of Gotham on a case related to one his father had previously pursued. The crucial thing with this one-shot effort is that it feels like a far deeper and meatier read than its 38 pages suggests and Tomasi and Syaf really do maximise the page count before them, the artist producing some excellent work from cover to cover that suggests he could handle a regular Bat-title in the near future. Sure, the case that Damian is on is a tad throwaway, but that’s just because it has to echo the comparisons between the elder and younger Waynes (the father and son motif being reversed for neat effect with the criminal parties) and at the same time reminds us that not every Gotham criminal is in the league of the Penguin or Joker. Speaking of which an additional nod has to be directed to Tomasi who manages to squeeze in a few comedic elements that work well and perhaps would feel a touch out of place in a regular issue.  Not essential as far as the bigger Batman And Robin picture goes perhaps, however it’s certainly a quality read that deserves the average Bat-fan’s attention!  8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Hawkeye in ‘Not Best Book Of The Week’ shock! That’s not cause for alarm as it’s still a fine slice of offbeat, urban superheroism, and really it’s more of a tangential issue, one that wasn’t originally planned as part of the continuing storyline, instead a last minute addition acting as Fraction’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy. It’s always a kind of dicey move when someone brings real world tragedy into a superhero comic but Fraction handles it tactfully by focusing on small human moments rather than going for a grand, sweeping (and likely pompous) commentary on the devastations wreaked by the storm. Lieber’s art fits in more stylistically to what’s come before while Hamm’s is more exaggerated and cartoonish, but it’s given visual continuity from Hollingsworth and the whole things makes an effective, impassioned interlude until we get back the regularly scheduled programme next month. 8/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads & Joseph Frazzetta
Image $3.50

Stewart R: This Image series has been plugging along with steady chapter after steady chapter over the past 6 months, yet here there seems to be an additional boost in impetus as a terrorist attack plot within the US mainland threatens to cost many lives as well as unveil a rather unsettling truth within the Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist network. We are provided with a tense fight against the clock as the ISA and their military support try to piece together the fragments of clues and hopefully prevent a massacre from taking place on home soil. Since this series debuted it’s been quite clear that Edmondson has a good gauge for electric pacing, mixing up the heart-thumping action elements with slower, weighty dialogue that has you looking at every cast member with a slightly suspicious eye. Here the chase provides the lion’s share of the excitement with Gerads’ concise and focussed panel work allowing the whole piece to flow perfectly. It sounds a strange compliment to make, but The Activity is one of those titles I’m quite happy to forget is on my pull list; it’s never going to be dropped and when it turns up in a delivery it’s always a great surprise!  8/10

Writer: Len Wein
Art: Steve Rude & Glen Whitmore
DC $3.99

James R: After the triumph of last week's Minutemen conclusion comes the tragedy of Dollar Bill and Ozymandias. I'll come back to Adrian Veidt in a moment, but I'll focus on this one-shot here. This is exactly the sort of thing Watchmen fans were worried about when the Before Watchmen project was announced; books that were frankly superfluous and - appositely enough for Dollar Bill - a hint of a cash-grab about them. Dollar Bill was very much a one-panel joke from Alan Moore, a footnote amongst the multitude of ideas and themes that he filled his 1986 opus with. This week we see Dollar Bill's story expanded by Len Wein, and it is utterly pointless. We learn Dollar Bill was William Brady, a man whose sporting career is cut short by injury, and hasn't enough talent to make it in showbiz... and then National Bank need a figurehead to advertise the safety of their institution. He joins the Minutemen and we're treated to a sequence which, if you bought Minutemen you've already seen, followed by his well-publicised death, concluding on the most schmaltzy sequence imaginable. It is so out of keeping with Watchmen, I laughed at how hokey it was! Over on Ozymandias, Len Wein does the same thing - he misreads the characters so badly, and whereas Darwyn Cooke augmented the original, Wein's take diminishes it. I feel sorry for Steve Rude for having to illustrate such a trainwreck of a comic, as his art is the only glimmer of quality here. Keep your dollar bills in your pockets when it comes to this one. 3/10

Writer: Tom Morello
Art: Scott Hepburn & Dan Jackson
Dark Horse $3.50

Stewart R: So, Tom Morello is definitely an accomplished musician and songwriter, and by all accounts he can write a decent comic series too! Orchid #12 brings the tale of future revolution and rebellion to a close and does so in the brutal and bloody fashion with which most of the series has been rendered. Orchid and the Bridge People’s last stand is fraught with danger, with a seemingly unavoidable defeat looking to be on the cards. I particularly appreciated how Morello and Hepburn bring events back to mimic a similar scenario faced by General China all those many years ago along with elements of earlier plot threads for a neat surprise. Morello opts to leave things with an epilogue to the destruction and bloodshed and in doing so provides his work with a fittingly upbeat feeling of hope and optimism that a story of grit and determination such as this deserves. I’m sure that some may look back across the 12 issues and argue that the writer has possibly fallen into the trap of gearing his comic too closely to the political and philosophical lines for which he is already well known for - the whole premise hinges on the age old tale of the subjugated rising up against their controlling oppressors - yet I personally think he has delivered a noteworthy first effort that shows just how such stories should be told and on that he cannot be faulted. Hepburn has done a fine job of putting the visions of a twisted future to the page and in collected format this will be certainly be worth checking out. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

Matt C: Often I find that if Wood doesn’t get you during the first round, he’s pretty much guaranteed to do so with the second round, and that’s exactly what’s happened for me with Mara #2. Last time, I was a bit iffy over the choice of volleyball as the central sport the plot hinges on, but this time I found myself becoming so absorbed by the tale of a sports megastar developing superpowers that it not only started to seem like volleyball was the obvious choice, but that it was the only choice too. That shows how skilful a writer Wood really is, because he exudes such confidence with his narrative that you can’t imagine his tale being told in any other way than the way he tells it. Doyle’s artwork seems sturdier in this issue, with more dynamism and emotion erupting from her images, ably conveying the way Mara is closing herself off amidst all the confusion and apprehension, both externally and internally. Mara is turning out to be a fine miniseries and yet another feather in Wood’s highly decorated cap. 8/10

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jorge Molina, Norman Lee, Craig Yeung, Walden Wong & Rachelle Rosenberg

Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I really do enjoy issues where we get to learn about the history of a character who may have been involved in comic titles and team books for several years, but never had the spotlight fall upon them for any great length of time. In this issue Spurrier solidifies the suggestion that young Blindfold is going to be a key part of David’s journey by showing us what her childhood and teenage years were like and in doing so also prises apart the curtains of mystery a little to provide some answers about David’s curious ‘helper’ from the previous chapters. The flashback whirlwind through which we journey is brilliantly illustrated by Molina and the rest of the art team, and the way in which we see everything from young Ruth’s perspective is a touch of subtle genius considering her physical mutation and powerset. It’s a sad, disturbing history lesson, all cast in suitably dour greys, with Legion’s dangerous distraction for the X-Men at Wolverine’s school cast in brilliant full colour and used to visually punctuate his narration. Blindfold seems to have been one of those bizarre plot accelerating constants through recent X-Men years, used only when a writer needed to add a strange level of precognitive mystery to their story and it’s thoroughly refreshing to see Spurrier flesh out her backstory and give her the involvement that she deserves. The cliffhanger ending leaves things poised for a must-read chapter later this month and honestly people, I know I keep going on about this, but when creators are producing work of this calibre it really should be on your radar if not your pull-list. Superb. 9/10

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

Matt C: Spinning out of the events of the Magik miniseries, this issue sees Illyana Rasputin take centre stage for the first time. Although only seconds passed on Earth, she spent eight years in the realm of Limbo, meaning she’s gone from being the seven year-old sister of Colossus to a fifteen year-old girl within the space of a day, and although that makes her an ideal candidate for New Mutant membership, her experiences result in her feeling disconnected from the others (who are in turn, wary of her). And that’s even before S’ym turns up intent on dragging her back into the clutches of the dark sorcerer, Belasco! Weaving Illyana’s story into that of the New Mutants assists in building the team a mythology of their own, giving Claremont the opportunity to start bringing the characters out from the shadow of the X-Men, which he seems keen to take. The art’s strong on the whole, and even though the narrative stumbles a little towards the end, this issue suggests that the title may have finally found its own path to travel along. 7/10

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