17 Mar 2013

Mini Reviews 17/03/2013

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.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #18
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R: What we have here, ladies and gentlemen of the comic reading world, is yet another phenomenal example of visual storytelling. What’s truly breathtaking and heartbreaking about Tomasi, Gleason, Gray and Kalisz’s work here is that it offers no progression of plot, no real notes of character development and quite importantly, no dialogue at all; it simply takes its time to convey all of the rage, grief and emotional frailty that has washed over Bruce Wayne following the death of his son. The expression work from Gleason is just masterful with the subtle shifts in Bruce’s demeanour, as his bottled emotions begin to seep out, ably enhanced by the foreboding inks of Mick Gray. The sideways glance of distrustful longing, the pursed grimace and set jaw of realised hopelessness; Bruce’s circular path of mourning is captivating and heart-clenching in equal measure and I must say that I was not dry of eye upon completing my first read through. Whether you were a fan of Damian or not, and whether you agree with Grant Morrison’s ultimate fate for the most recent Robin, there can be little doubt that it’s the delivery of fantastic illustrated punch such as this that tends to make those controversial decisions so worthwhile. Quite honestly unmissable. 10/10

James R: I dropped this series a while back as, after a strong start, Tomasi and Gleason were turning in something that was far too much by the numbers. This week our own Stewart R said to me "You have to read this book - if you don't like it, I'll give you your money back!" How could I say no?! And I'm very pleased I did as this is an outstanding comic. A few years ago, Marvel ran a 'Nuff Said' month where a slew of titles were dialogue free, and it was compelling to see comics using images alone to tell a story. Tomasi and Gleason do the same thing here as we see Bruce Wayne's response to death of his son. It's a powerful tale filled with rage, sadness and regret - but for me, these are the themes that help make Batman such an iconic character. Having got to the final page, I immediately reread the book, and that's always a gold standard for me. I love it when any creative team does something innovative with the medium, or uses it in a unique way, and this issue was in that class from first page to last. Will it make me pick the title again? No, the solicitation for issue #19 doesn't grab me. Do I think it was a good idea for DC to wipe out one of their best-loved new characters of recent years? Nope. Was this my book of the week? Yes, easily. 9/10

AGE OF ULTRON #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I continue to find this a far more engaging read than I expected it to be. It’s a familiar concept in the superhero genre, one that’s been seen in the likes of Days Of Future Past and Age Of Apocalypse, but it’s remains a compelling notion to see familiar faces dealing with their world having completely gone to shit and the odds stacked up high against them. Bendis is doing a generally fine job of easing out plot details in between the impressively staged action sequences, which again see Hitch and his artistic colleagues at their best. It’s not without its faults though. I do wonder whether people in the Bendis household repeat themselves, er, repeatedly, as it’s a dialogue tic the writer never seems able to shake. And, what the hell is going on with that final full-page image?? Nothing I can’t live with though, and if issue #3 doesn’t see any kind of substantial dip in quality it’s highly likely I’ll be signing myself up for the full series. 8/10

CROSSED BADLANDS #25
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Raulo Caceres & Digikore Studios
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: I still say I would have been entirely happy if Garth Ennis magnificent miniseries Crossed had existed as completely standalone project, and the door had been firmly shut after the final page, but it’s hard to deny that his twist on the zombie genre created a world ripe for further exploration. To be honest, I’ve not really ventured into that world a lot, but every time Ennis returns, I follow, meaning I’m back for his latest Badlands arc. It contains an unsurprisingly smart script, mixing in some cultural identity into the expected brutal survivalism and NSFW gore, and the art fits into the Avatar style nicely (if you’ve seen enough of their output you hopefully get what I mean), although the main character does look like he’s wandered out of some Ancient Rome production! The only real quibble I’ve got is that the issue kind of stops mid-flow, as though the point it ends at wasn’t really designed as such, and we’re seeing something getting prepped for a trade paperback being halted abruptly in an inconvenient place. That might just be my interpretation of it, but it’s going to lose a mark for it anyway… 7/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #26
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ramon Perez & Laura Martin
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: This title has felt back to its best for me since the start of the ‘Savage Learning’ arc, and this issue is another fine chapter. Jason Aaron snaps us back in time to recount both Wolverine's past as James Howlett and, more importantly, that of his half-brother Dog. In these pages Ramon Perez's art takes on a whole new dimension thanks to Laura Martin's astonishing job on colours. The past is rendered with a beautiful watercolour wash that gives the pages a apposite aged feel. It also makes Perez's work a little reminiscent of Francis Manapul's over on Flash. I've particularly enjoyed Aaron's development of Wolverine’s character in this book. The difficulty in changing from a killing machine to a man who is responsible for kids is an idea that seems to be a rich seam, and Aaron is a writer with the talent to make it work. With every issue, I find myself thinking "I can't wait to see where this goes next". In direct contrast to Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron really embraces the huge scope of the world of Marvel's Mutants. Unpredictable in the best sense of the word and a blast to read. 8/10

BATMAN #13
Writer: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Andy Kubert, Alex Malev, Sandra Hope & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $3.99

Stewart R: The decision to off Damian Wayne was certainly not Scott Snyder’s and I’d be quite interested to know if it had been whether he would have still gone along with Robin’s demise. What’s interesting in this issue, with the ‘Death of the Family’ now seemingly washed out of the mind following the events of Batman Incorporated #8, is that Snyder opts to analyse and view much of Bruce/Batman’s grieving and rage from an outside, third party perspective. Bringing the spotlight back upon young Harper Row in this regard already has the internet ablaze with speculation about a swift replacement into the uniform of red, black and gold, and the way that Snyder and Tynion depict her as the capable, street-savvy and quick learning assistant definitely adds fuel to those fires. I like Harper’s attitude towards Batman and his presence in Gotham as a symbol, preferring not to know anything about his secret identity and focussing more on what he represents and how he must not fall. The first chapter depicts Batman more as a blistering force of nature that is in danger of burning itself out, the red mist blinding him to his limited reserves of energy, while the second looks at the brief moment when Harper’s efforts finally snap him out of his bloodrage. It helps to really develop Harper as a character for the future as she studies him and recognises the pain that she’s similarly experienced herself. My problem with it is that I’d have much rather had the premier Batman book focus purely on the protagonist and the turmoil that he’s experiencing from his viewpoint. It could be argued that Batman And Robin #18 does that job perfectly well this week, but for those only picking up this Bat-title each month things must REALLY feel disjointed and a touch confusing presently. 7/10

Matt C: Having never been convinced by Grant Morrison’s take on the Dark Knight I let Batman Incorporated #8 pass me by, and so didn’t get to witness the demise of Damian Wayne. I will say that Damian was easily the best thing Morrison brought to the Batman mythos so it does almost feel like the writer’s acting like a spoilt kid, not letting anyone else play with his toys once he’s gone. I was kind of hoping for some kind of emotional punch to this issue, which sees Batman becoming reckless in his crimefighting antics, allowing grief to cloud his judgement, but there was definitely something lacking from the delivery, for me at least. My suspicion is that my general disappointment with the New 52 as a whole is infecting my perception of this book, which is arguably the best thing to come out of the reboot/relaunch/whatever, but on the other hand I have to admit that after the first six months of brilliance, my passion for the title has waned. Synder’s a great writer, some of Capullo’s art has been phenomenal (and a nod to Kubert’s efforts here too!) and I take my hat off to the creative team for reasserting the Dark Knight’s standing in comicdom, but I’m sad to say I’m just not feeling it anymore. Again, part of that’s down to my gradual disconnect from the New 52 but I guess it’s time to make a decision, and that decision is that (for now) I’m done with Batman, and consequently – as it was the last New 52 title I was picking up – I’m done with the DC Universe as a whole in its current state. 6/10

AVENGERS ARENA #6
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Kev Walker & Frank Martin Jr.
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I’m afraid I’m going to have to drop something of a bomb right here and now in regards to Avengers Arena: this is the most Hunger Games issue of the series to date. Now with that out in the open for all to see I can explain why that really isn’t the slight that it could be conceived to be. What Hopeless does is bring all of the surviving teenagers into play and starts to let their fear, anger and some previous tensions spike as the danger begins to close in and the gloves start to come off. Just as teamwork seems to be working out, Arcade pops up and pulls the rug under their feet. As we start to warm towards certain characters, Hopeless shows us how they may have been playing the game to ensure the best possible scenario for them and it likewise turns things on its head. The wild unpredictability and fine character work (this really does feel like a very mixed and broad bunch of individuals, and importantly all teenagers) has meant that Avengers Arena has been a real page-turner from day one. Kev Walker just seems to grow stronger from month to month and as the heads begin to roll it’s great to have him on this book as the regular artist. Quite the lethal melting pot of hormones and superpowers this one, and no mistaking! 8/10

WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS? #3
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Tonci Zonjic
Image $3.50

Matt C: In a week where a lot of higher profile titles haven’t really matched expectations to varying degrees, this one has kind of snaked its way through to the front of the pack. It’s not been as instantaneously gripping as the first miniseries, but then it hasn’t needed to convince anyone to stick around – if you were a fan of Who Is Jake Ellis? then the odds are high that you’ll be locked into this for the duration. It’s the kind of stuff that Edmondson excels at (as evidenced by the original series, Dancer and The Activity): shady government agencies with dubious motivations and characters operating in a morally grey environment where danger lurks around every corner. Edmondson’s writing is tight and paced to a tee, while Zonjic’s smooth, stylish art piles on the atmospherics to delicious effect. If there’s a minor quibble it’s that the two protagonists are a bit too visually matched following a visit to the barbers, but that aside this is proving to be an eminently fine successor to an excellent miniseries. 8/10

BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS #6
Writer: Len Wein
Art: Jae Lee & June Chung
DC $3.99

Matt C: Another Before Watchmen series that ends with the feeling of a wasted opportunity. I’d originally wondered whether Wein was using Veidt’s pompous narration with the intention of subverting our perceptions of the character as we went along, but that turns out to have been wishful thinking as it’s been a pretty static representation of “the smartest man in the world” the whole way through. Essentially what we’ve been witness to is a writer needlessly filling in the gaps that didn’t need filling, telling us absolutely nothing we didn’t already know. The saving grace of the series has been Lee’s art, with imagery that has ‘career best’ written all over it. That aside, Ozymandias has been an entirely pointless addition to the Watchmen mythos. 5/10

James R: "For my name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look upon my works ye mighty, and think 'What an utterly pointless miniseries that was. I learnt nothing. Looks nice though'" - Percy Bysshe Shelly. Maybe. 3/10

NOWHERE MEN #4
Writer: Eric Stephenson
Art: Nate Bellegarde & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

Stewart R: So I’d missed out on my #3 first printing - gawd dang you Diamond distribution cock-ups! - but having received my copy of the second printing just a couple of weeks ago I’m really enjoy the way in which this fairly high-brow science fiction series is moving forward, many of its mysteries still circling like a flock of magnificently mutated vultures. While the political posturing and behind-the-scenes betrayals at World Corp are still a little hard to follow presently, they are neatly balanced by the really intriguing development of the space station crew whose changes range from the sickeningly drastic to the curiously minimal as their physiologies warp following their exposure to bizarre radiation. It’s the desire to find out just what is happening to these poor souls that drives me on each time and thankfully scribe Eric Stephenson is starting to bring the main players from World Corp closer to the plight of the morphing crew. The art from Bellegarde and Bellaire is top notch, the former’s line work crisp and precise which helps the moments of physical horror to be all the more stark while the latter is digging out some rather eye-pleasing colour combinations from her evidently broad palette! Providing that Nowhere Men continues to offer up answers and explanations over the course of the next couple of chapters then I think we could have yet another highly praised Image hit on our hands. 8/10

NEW MUTANTS #20
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Surgeons fight to save Dani Moonstar's life while in the Demon Bear's mystical realm, the New Mutants fight for the same reason, various frictions between them perhaps hampering their immediate success - will they learn to work as a unit in time get their teammate out of harm's way? Once again the star of the show is Sienkiewicz who brings an intensity to the title that was entirely absent before his arrival. There's an almost abstract quality to some of his imagery, but rather than detracting from the overall effect, it adds layers to the atmospherics, resulting in panels that fizzle with claustrophobic potency. The issue does suffer from an ending where everything is resolved far too quickly but not to the extent that it spoils an otherwise rejuvenated series. 8/10

4 comments:

Living Tribunal said...

Matt, I'm baffled by what you find so compelling in Age of Ultron. So far there has been no plot progression, lots of visuals of rubble, and heroes chit chatting in typical Bendis style. It reminds me of Ultimatum.

Matt C said...

LT: To be honest, I'm slightly baffled too as I expected to dislike it rather than respond to it positively! Maybe I'm just being seduced by the impressively rendered post-apocalyptic carnage, to the point where I'm willing to overlook some of the flaws.

walkeri said...

Loved Batman #18,just goes to show you don't need loads of word balloons to make a great story [are you listening Mr Bendis],for me the best comic of the year so far.
Age of Ultron #2 was a little better than one but how many times do we need to see the Marvel Heroes nearly defeated only to have them win the day,same old story yet again just told a different way and the rumour going around at the moment is that it just might be Marvelman who makes a surprise appearance at the end of this series.
And Matt it's a little sad to hear your giving up on DC at the moment but I'm sure you have your reasons but may I suggest that you try out Green Arrow with the new team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino,this team have really turned this comic around and I have to say it's the best Green Arrow I've read in years.
Happy reading guys.

Andy C said...

Great reviews, guys and posted nice and early! I agree DC seem to have run out of steam at the moment, but I thought Batman #18 was excellent. I'm also loving Batgirl which I would rate alongside the main bat-title.

I too dropped Batman and Robin a while back as I found the Father/Son struggle tedious, repetitive and not particularly believable, but in response to the early online reviews asked Andy at Paradox to keep me a copy of #18. From your reviews it doesn't look like I'll be disappointed.....

Don't suppose Damian will be gone for long but I for one won't miss him. I felt he was properly rounded out as a character and integrated into the bat family following initial power struggles with Dick Grayson, and then The New 52 came along and forced us to sit through the whole thing again with Bruce Wayne.

I don't think The New 52 has been all bad. As a newcomer to single issues it gave me a way in to many new titles but I think the obsession with the '52' thing has lead them to replace weak titles for even weaker ones just to keep the numbers up.

Marvel and Image clearly have the upper hand at the moment and swings in popularity can only be a good thing. It keeps these guys on their toes and hopefully results in better comics...?