11 Feb 2013

Mini Reviews 10/02/2013

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: Hunberto Ramos & Leonardo Olea
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I missed the boat on this one when funding was being raised via Kickstarter, and if I’d been aware I’d have likely invested, but I’m glad BOOM! have given me with the chance to read it as it’s really rather wonderful. Fairy tales have been providing writers with a lot of inspiration of late, some more directly than others (Fables being the most obvious example), and it seems clear that offering twists on ingrained classics fires up the creative juices in a similar way to those scribes who enjoy delivering variations on certain superheroic icons. Fairy Quest’s spin is that all those famous characters follow their daily routine of acting out their stories at the behest of the nefarious Mister Grimm, and if they stray from the plot the Think Police are on hand to with the threat of the Mind Eraser. Oppression breeds rebellion, and various familiar faces are conspiring to escape to the fabled Real World, with Red Riding Hood acting as the main protagonist/heroine in the tale. Jenkins brilliantly taps into the darkness inherent in all the best fairy tales and finds some surprising and funny ways to introduce his versions of the famous characters. I’m more familiar with Ramos’ superhero work than anything else but seeing what he does here it’s blatantly apparent that his style is perfectly suited for classical fantasy (the cartoonish quality of his art coupled with those big, bulging, wondrous eyes he pops on the faces of the cast). This is a delightful, exuberant comic that had me grinning from ear to ear throughout, the only downside I can think of is that there’s only one more issue to go. Magic. 9/10

Stewart R: 10 years later and the creative team who arguably got me back into the world of US comics with their run on Spectacular Spider-Man are back together once more, delivering their Kickstarter funded success story to the serial-hungry masses in this two part effort and wowing me with it on the way!  BOOM! have picked up the ball in this respect and I’m thankful that they have as it’s a great little read. The idea of fairy tale or fantasy characters from the annals of literary history living out an existence far broader than their reputable story, yet tied to it by bureaucracy and fear is not something particularly new to me, but in Jenkins’ hands it proves to be both heartwarming and thrilling in equal measure. It rightly reads like a fairytale for this time when metafiction has become a cornerstone of the writing world, yet maintains a great air of innocence that such a colourful read should exude. The relationship between Red Riding Hood and the Wolf is brilliant in its simplicity and I love the way that Ramos manages to maintain the ferocity of the lupine character in his expression work, even during the softer moments which keeps us from throwing away the ‘Big Bad’ from his name! The artist seems to lean a little closer to his ‘European’ styling here - it’s closer to Kookaburra than his Spider-Man work - which definitely fits the story well. I’ll echo Matt C’s comment that it’s a shame for this to only be two parts long (and we’ve still #2 to look forward too yet!), but the success of the Kickstarter means that more Fairy Quest chapters should be with us before too long and on the strength of this that’s fantastic news!  9/10

Writer: Jason Latour
Art: Nick Klein
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Brubaker’s now left the building. The man who did what no one thought possible – brought Bucky back from the dead, brilliantly turning him into tortured antihero, the Winter Soldier – has gone on to pastures new, leaving the reigns free for some other daring creator to pick them up. And who would dare follow such a seminal run (on both Captain America and Winter Solider titles)? Seems like Jason Latour’s the man with the plan as he effortlessly keeps the ball rolling with the book, going back to its originally stated M.O. by having Bucky dealing with his guilt and shame over past crimes head on (it’s fair to say Brubaker deviated away from this for the first fourteen issues by concentrating solely on one aspect of the Winter Soldier’s former existence). Nick Fury is in the shadows to point Bucky in the right direction, and it results in some angsty, moody thrills for the duration, perfectly rendered by Klein’s muted visuals (last seen in the rather excellent Image mini, Dancer). With so many other quality titles coming out of Marvel at the moment I was giving this one issue to make the decision of whether to stick with it and I’m pleased to say Winter Soldier is still deserving of a place on my pull-list. 8/10

Writers: Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire
Art: Andrew Bellanger & Tony Avina
DC $2.99

James R: I've avoided talking about Rotworld for the past few months, as, due to it's epic nature - Swamp Thing and Animal Man trapped in a twisted future of the DCU in a desperate battle against Antone Arcane - I've been aware that this is probably going to read better as a whole rather than picking out individual issues. However, this week saw the two titles' respective writers team up to deliver a thrilling conflict between the Rot and our protagonists. Things kick off in Animal Man, but then crescendo in Swamp Thing as Alec Holland desperately tries to detonate Batman's formula in the atmosphere. It's the sort of issue that made me fall in love with comics as a kid, with Snyder and Lemire throwing everything in here, (including *SPOILER ALERT* Frankenstein being made a Green Lantern!) and the book has the feeling of a great blockbuster movie finale. This isn't the end though, as the writing A-Team pull out one last twist and introduce us to the Parliament of Decay, who need Swamp Thing and Animal Man to undo Arcane's megalomaniacal work. All told, it was a breathless read and I loved every page. The only jarring element was the introduction of Andrew Bellanger as the penciller on the book. His style is at the more cartoonish end of the spectrum, and that seemed an odd editorial choice for a dark horror-based comic. By the end of the issue though, I felt he had done a passable job. In the hands of a a great artist I think this would have been my book of the week - as it is, it's a great comic that shows what two great writers working in harmony can do. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: John Romita Jr, Tom Palmer & Dean White
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt C: For some reason I had it in my head that this was the penultimate episode so I was a bit surprised to see things wrapped up on the final page (or wrapped up in the sense that it leads directly into Kick-Ass 2). That may also have something to do with my interest waning considerably over the last couple of instalments as it became clear that a lot of what’s been going on here has felt superfluous, and really it should have come out before Kick Ass 2 as much of its impact is blunted by us knowing what happens next. There’s also a feeling that Millar is running on autopilot now, ticking off all the boxes (extreme violence, pop culture references, more extreme violence) rather than trying something new.  It’s been moderately entertaining with some very, very good visuals from the art team, but a couple of things do spring to mind at its conclusion: 1. that we’ve seen this all before in the other two volumes (a few deviations aside, Millar hasn’t done anything new here), and 2. that perhaps Hit-Girl works a lot better as the supporting character who steals the show than as the star of the show herself. 5/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rashan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Stewart R: The first arc of Think Tank was a well conceived escape story wrapped up within a detailed look at the westernised military machine in the 21st Century; it buzzed with excitement and, in a neat twist, it also educated the reader at the same time! I don’t mean to say that the majority of comic books are just throwaway forms of entertainment with that, it’s just that Matt Hawkins and Rashan Ekedal went to such lengths to get as much real world technology and application into those issues that at points it did feel like I was experiencing the most interesting science lesson I’d had in a year. David Loren’s epiphany during those first 4 issues, yes, occurred on an ethical level for our protagonist, but also showed a man who had never really lifted a finger to determine the course of his own life until that point. With the rush of the escape now dealt with, Hawkins goes in a very intriguing direction by bringing us back to square one in a certain respect, yet with all of the superb characterisation from his earlier chapters now powering us and David on. It highlights the mind games being played and I couldn’t be more eager to see just how David’s life with pan out from here. What’s great to see is that Hawkins has a terrific touch when it comes to balancing emotional plot interactions with the tech-heavy exposition that sets this series apart from the rest and will, I believe, make this one of the true comic book success stories of 2013.  9/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel/Icon $3.95

Matt C: It’s back and it’s just as potent as ever, the delays seemingly doing nothing to diminish its edge. In fact, as Bendis points out in the back (with a rather reasonable explanation behind the delays) the subject matter is perhaps more prescient than initially intended (see the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, both unheard of when Scarlet debuted). With the theme of ‘Power to the People’ now back in the headlines, it lends Scarlet additional clout, and Bendis’ script is up to the task, writing tics and all (which seem more natural when not coming forth from the mouths of superheroes!). Maleev’s work is stunning, the intense naturalism of his images packing that extra wallop. The creators clearly having a winning premise to get behind, I just hope they can keep this thing afloat and not see it sink due to extended delays again. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Adam Kubert & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Building, building, forever building. It’s clear now that Hickman is taking the short period following that first great arc to give us all the much needed backstory to the three strange and tantalizing new members of the Avengers - Hyperion last issue, Smasher this, with Captain Universe to follow next time around - and in doing so he’s showing us that the larger plot is still flowing full pelt beneath the surface. I really did get swept along with the story of how Izzy Dare became a member of the Imperial Guard and she certainly appears at first glance to be the plucky and capable heroine that will keep this team fresh and honest. The true success lies in how Hickman utilises Smasher’s induction to show us the connection back to what we were shown in the first issue where the Shi’ar Imperial Guard fought upon a moon. Having that mystery lifted has me thirsty to know just what else this maestro of the long game has in store for us over the coming months and how the story will unfold. I’m still not fully convinced with Adam Kubert’s artwork - it's still a little scratchy in parts - however he does put in a solid effort that has its share of ground-shaking spectacle and finer moments of subtlety which helps to bolster this title’s reputation as one of the unmissable offerings from the Marvel NOW! initiative.  8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Frank D'Armita
Marvel $3.99

James R: Jonathan Hickman continues to do a grand job in his new role as 'Lord of All Things Avengers' with new issues of both New Avengers and Avengers. It is the former that really grabbed my attention this week though. The Illuminati unleash the Infinity Gauntlet to stop the 616 Earth being destroyed by an incursion from a parallel Earth...but at what price? Having saved the Earth, the great minds of the Marvel Universe debate building a device of even greater power to employ should there be another incursion, but should they? Hickman is a writer who isn't afraid to deal with questions of ethics and responsibility (If you haven't, read his superb Pax Romana for evidence of this) and I thought it was smart to have Captain America as the voice of doubt in the group. If nothing else he represents an age when man first learnt to create a weapon that could end the world, and his sense of dismay at the the other members of the group was handled brilliantly. This all leads to a fantastic and shocking conclusion to the book, which I have no intention of spoiling... however, it does show that Hickman is willing to take this book to a much darker place than we may have previously thought, and it's fascinating. If I have a criticism, it's that I'm still unsure about Epting being the artist for this book. He was a natural fit for Brubaker's gritty Captain America, but for a book of this epic scale I think it calls for someone whose pencils are more jaw-dropping. This is the smartest title of the week for me, and the one which prompted an immediate re-read - always the hallmark of the book of the week. 8/10

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

Stewart R: Okay then, this is not quite what I expected from the debut episode of the 'Godkiller' arc. Having set out his stall and shown us just why Tony Stark would be gunning his rocket boots and setting out for the further reaches of the galaxy with a strong, if slightly disjointed first five issues, I had been anticipating things kicking off with something of a bang here, but Gillen goes for a quieter entry into the unknown country. It actually works quite well, but six issues in I'm still waiting for that weighty explosive moment to occur for some reason
. While Land does get to try his hand at interplanetary fleet warfare - something I’m not convinced he has the greatest grip of - it’s not long before things descend into the realms of a Kirk-esque fantasy with alien ladies aplenty, all of them surprisingly sharing that same 'cover of Cosmopolitan' expression that women of Earth have in Land-illustrated books. One day we will grow tired of citing that niggle and to be honest there are occasional panels in this issue where the combination of Gillen’s finer comedic style goes hand-in-hand with an artist capable of delivering truly great expression work.  Trek gets a mention, and there’s some service for the Transformers fans out there too and in general this feels like a bit of roguish Stark fun before the nitty-gritty of the Godkiller story gets laid bare next time out.  There’s definite quality here and it proves to be a somewhat entertaining read, however, when Marvel’s $2.99 fringe books are delivering more consistently than this premium title, I do start checking my wallet and tutting thoughtfully when it comes to Iron Man. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: David Marquez & Marte Gracia
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: The last time we members of the PCG assembled, I dug out a copy of Bendis' New Avengers to illustrate how different Hickman's take on the characters and the book was. It almost goes without saying that Bendis' book was...'talky' shall we say. Jump forward to today and Bendis is now in charge of Marvel's mutants and issue number seven is...'talky'. There is a very large difference between the two titles though, leafing back through the Avengers, I found that so much of that dialogue was superfluous or written in the same tone. In All-New X-Men the conversations between Cyclops and Mystique have a great edge to them. Mystique is certainly pursuing an agenda in offering her advice to the young Scott Summers and it was great to see Cyclops start to vocalise his concerns about his future self (though I still think the young X-Men have accepted being in the future and meeting themselves way too easily!) I was also impressed with the pencils of David Marquez; I'd still prefer to see the work of Stuart Immonen, but Marquez shows himself to be a worthy lieutenant. Yet again, I find that I have a strange relationship with this book; it's not in the same class as either Remender's X-Force or Aaron's Wolverine & The X-Men, yet I can't help but be compelled by it. I don't think it's the stellar title Marvel might want quite yet, however it's certainly a fun read and has got my attention for the immediate future. 7/10

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

Matt C: I doubt the cover to this issue was intended to look quite so disturbing, but the image of demonsmoke pouring out of Illyana Rasputin’s eyes is warped to say the least (but good work from Tom Mandrake all the same). Inside the story is one of the strongest efforts presented in the series so far. Illyana discovers Kitty Pryde is prisoner of Emma Frost (in those days White Queen of the Hellfire Club) and has to convince her new teammates to embark on a rescue mission. The air of distrust that surrounds her, and a minor case of escaping demons and wreaking havoc, doesn’t help her cause. Potentially a factor in this issue’s favour is the lack of any involvement or appearances from Professor X and the X-Men. Unbeknownst to the New Mutants, the elder team have been snatched by the Beyonder to star in the Secret Wars series, which gives the kids a chance to take matters into their own hands. A bit of soul-searching amongst the team adds an effective undercurrent of emotion, and after a lot of average issues in the can by this stage, it’s good to see one that does most things right. 8/10

No comments: