4 Mar 2013

Mini Reviews 03/03/2013

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.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #0.1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Steve McNiven, Jon Dell & Justin Ponsor
Marvel  $3.99


Matt C: Another surprise from the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. After Nova #1 turned out to be far better than I was expecting, this 'prologue' of sorts to the new Guardians Of The Galaxy series is even better than that, against the odds. Yep, Bendis has turned in quote possibly the best mainstream superhero script I've seen from him for some time, devoid of the usual irritants that I've come to expect from him (no dialogue homogeny!), and it's actually full of genuine heart. It's basically the origin of Star-Lord, and does follow a familiar story template, but it's both affecting and effective thanks to some convincing interaction between the characters and some really impressive art from McNiven, some of the best work I've ever seen from him (although Dell and Ponsor need to take credit for the impact the visuals make too). As we're mostly dealing with a younger version of one of the main cast members here, and the rest of them have an essentially dialogue-free cameo, there's no real indication of how well Bendis is equipped to handle this team, and whether he might fall back into the same old bad habits, but on the basis of this opener, there's no way I'm missing the next issue. 9/10


UNCANNY X-MEN #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey & Victor Olazaba
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Two issues down and this is shaping up very nicely indeed. I will say firstly that I’m not too keen on the way that Bendis is portraying Magneto as the bitter snake in the grass, but I can’t argue that it makes things interesting to see unfold as Scott tries to build a new future and redeem himself for his hideous transgressions. The new characters are intriguing individuals with some powers that set them apart from the usual mutant teams that we see; there’s no evident ‘bruiser’ and not much in the way of a direct energy manipulator, two general mainstays of X-Men books from the past. With the mouthwatering climax that Bendis and Bachalo throw our way I’m definitely eager to see what the creators come up with for the youngsters' first proper unified test! The biggest success of all though has to be the way in which Bendis first gives us a look into the current mindset and misery of poor Emma Frost and then the interactions between her and Scott. There’s a real genuine sense of regret that lingers between them and though I suspect that we’ll never see the pair back together there’s just that tiny flicker of hope that still persists to add yet another reason to keep reading. Uncanny X-Men is a book that has tension, emotion and fun and is a winner so far.  9/10

BATMAN INCORPORATED #8
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham, Jason Masters & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $2.99

James R: This issue is almost worthy of a challenge from the Riddler: "When is a death not a death?" No doubt that by now you've heard what happens in this issue - it's been one of those stories that mainstream media have picked up - but if you haven't, and you want to remain unspoiled, unfocus your eyes, and scroll past my review (I have a sneaking suspicion that people do that anyway, but still...)

So in this issue, Grant Morrison offs one of his best creations in Damian Wayne. In a truly heroic end, Damian dies fighting his monstrous cloned twin. If you've been reading Morrison's Batman run from the start, there's much here to applaud. Not only are there nods to some famous Batman moments of the past, but Morrison reunites Damian with Dick Grayson for a sequence which references not only the great Batman And Robin run but the Batman TV series of the 1960s. Chris Burnham continues to do a superb job on the art, and in the absence of Frank Quietly he successfully infuses the book with the same atmosphere that Quietly does. So why am I not flipping out over this book? Well, the best analogy I can give you is that it's a bit like being at a music festival, and watching a band before suddenly a better act starts on an adjacent stage; the first band may keep on playing, but nobody is giving them their full attention. Since Scott Snyder took over the helm of Batman, it's clear that DC editorial have trusted him to be the guiding force behind the Dark Knight. Morrison was allowed to finish his Batman story as it didn't quite conclude before the onset of the New 52. So as enjoyable as Incorporated has been, it's felt more like a self-contained story, almost an Elseworlds tale. But wait a minute! We can now add more confusion with the news that DC are saying that this is now in continuity! Huh? Since the reboot of DC’s titles, the Batman timeline has been particularly muddled and now it feels like disorganised chaos. I know it's just comics, and I should just enjoy them at face value, but when a publisher encourages you to buy multiple titles, the very least you should expect is for the world they create to be consistent and well-planned. And anyway, nobody really stays dead in comics, right?! 7/10

HAWKEYE #8
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja, Annie Wu & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99


Matt C: A thing of beauty, this. It’s a prime of example of the perfect combination of creators getting together to produce something amazing that simply wouldn’t turn out as well if you took one of them out of the mix. Here we see the return of a certain redhead that saw Clint get into a world of trouble a few issues back, and whaddya know, her return means he’s swiftly in deep water again (comic book characters do love redheads though!). The scripting is witty, irreverent and thrilling, the art is stunning (check out that Aja cover – wow!), the colouring perfect, and even the lettering is exactly spot on. To add to those essential ingredients, this month Annie Wu joins the team, delivering some astounding faux comic book covers that are not only essential to the plot but provide a succession of beautiful pop-art poster images. If you’re not picking up this book yet then there’s a monumental gap in your pull-list that needs to be filled right away. Simply wonderful. 9/10

BEFORE WATCHMEN: DR. MANHATTAN #4
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Adam Hughes & Laura Martin
DC $3.99


Matt C: It’s been a bit rocky at points, but I think this finale pulls this miniseries back into focus, showing it to be perhaps the most audacious of all the Before Watchmen books, attempting to take what we know about certain characters and, push them through a different perspective, one that doesn’t denigrate the classic series but dares to try something different. Watchmen purists will no doubt hate it, and I could probably understand (although not necessarily agree) with their reasonings, but for me at least this was an example of a team of creators refusing to play it safe, with Straczynski ’s smart scripting and Hughes’ luscious illustrations really making their mark. Even at this stage, with several series still not concluded, I’m going to call it and say Minutemen is far and away the best thing to come out of Before Watchmen. If you read that, liked it, and are hungry for more, then this is probably the only other mini really worth your time and money. 8/10

James R: So, the final issue of the tale of Jon Osterman arrives this week and it's clear from the editorial letter at the back that everyone involved are feeling pretty pleased about the whole Before Watchmen project. Long time readers of the blog will know that in my opinion the project should have been limited to Darwyn Cooke's output as once again, we're left with a distinctly underwhelming series in Doctor Manhattan. Credit where due, the book has looked magnificent; Adam Hughes is a brilliant artist, and Laura Martin does a superb job on colours (along with her work on Uncanny Avengers, she's on fire this week!.) The problem lies, once again, with Straczynski's script. In the first two issues this showed real promise, as rather than retreading over the original this title took Dr Manhattan off in a quantum direction, and there was some brilliant innovation in evidence as we saw the myriad possible futures that came from Jon's decisions. But all that has just fizzled out to a pointless justification of why Dr. Manhattan sides with Ozymandias. The comic gives you the same feeling that you'd have talking to someone who is beautiful yet as dumb as a sack of hammers - the initial 'wow' factor is soon replaced by apathy and you quickly find yourself looking round for someone more interesting to talk to. For the art alone. 5/10

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #17
Writer: Christopher Yost
Art: Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco & Dave Curiel
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: While Dan Slott powers along with the strange Peter Parker/Otto Octavius possession and interactions within the pages of Superior Spider-Man, Christopher Yost seems to be having plenty of fun just concentrating on Otto’s adventures in the body of Parker and with the suit of red and blue between the pages of Avenging. This time he gets to pay a visit to the Future Foundation and as Otto is even more uncomfortable around children that Peter ever has been there’s plenty of chuckle-raising moments as the various characters of the Foundation act up under the supervision of their begrudging babysitter. I particularly liked Otto taking a shine - well, as far as the former supervillain offers vague mental praise anyway - towards Bentley, and Paco Medina nails the comedy way in which Spidey restrains the young man perfectly. Then we get a special surprise guest - no blatant spoilers here except to say that Kieron Gillen is a fan of this guy(?) too - and some temporal authority intrigue that once again offers the threat of Otto’s charade being opened to the world. Yost really is producing gold with this body swap magic and Medina is the perfect choice for a title that edges towards laughs far more than tension. Considering my less than generous opinions about this series when it started, it’s now finding itself appearing as a comfortable regular on my pull-list and well worth checking out if you’re enjoying the early days of your less-than-friendly 'Superior' Spider-Man.  8/10

 SIXTH GUN: SONS OF THE GUN #1
Writers: Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt
Art: Brian Churilla & Bill Crabtree
Oni Press $3.99


Matt C: With a TV pilot being prepped for filming, now may very well be the time to get into The Sixth Gun if you’ve not already done so, not simply for bragging rights if a full TV series comes into fruition, but because it’s a damn fine comic book series. We perhaps don’t give it the praise it’s due on a regular basis at the PCG, but rest assured it’s been a solidly entertaining and inventive title since it debuted back in 2010, and it’s now reached a stage where it’s garnered enough support to enable an offshoot mini series to appear. Sons Of The Gun takes a step to the side from the regular ongoing narrative to spotlight General Hume’s Horseman (each of whom has possessed one of the Six) to show what happened to them once their master was taken out of the picture. Basically, this is not a ‘jumping on point’ by any stretch of the imagination (that would be Volume 1 of the regular series, available at all good comic shops, Paradox included!), but for fans of the series, while I wouldn’t say it’s entirely essential (yet!) it’s probably something you don’t want to miss out on.  It features the same kind of grizzled, supernatural cowboy shenanigans as the series proper, and as Churilla’s art is not that far removed stylistically from Brian Hurtt, there’s a visual consistency that spills over from the parent book, obviously something Crabtree’s colouring has a big hand in. This is a rootin’ tootin’ and most welcome addition to the thoroughly creepy and compelling Western mythos being crafted by Messrs Bunn and Hurtt. 8/10

DEATHMATCH #3
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carlos Magno & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $3.99


Stewart R: What I’m truly enjoying about the way that Jenkins is unfolding his bizarre superpowered murder mystery is that the more the various characters seem to learn about the prison which contains them and their captors, the vast majority of their investigation is still pure guesswork and speculative theory. This definitely keeps the excitement levels high as the groups start to fracture in their opinions of how best to tackle the problem and the body count begins to clock up. Jenkins is varying the pace as the issues roll on, sometimes whisking through a handful of deathmatches in one go and then perhaps only showing one or two to keep things ticking along and have the focus on the building attempt to escape. What is clear is that he’s going to take his time to show us all of his plans and reveal all of the twists and shocks and that is good news as far as I’m concerned. One subtle success I’ve noticed is that over the space of just three issues Jenkins has been able to convince me when some of these individuals are perhaps acting ‘out of character’ and considering that this is a brand spanking new comic book universe with unfamiliar supes, fears and neutrals that’s quite a feat. The visuals remain brutal and gritty with Carlos Magno helping to egg the mystery on with strong character work and bone-cracking action. 8/10

FLASH #17
Writers: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
DC $2.99


Matt C: Currently I’m down to just two DC Universe titles after gradually becoming disullisoned with the whole New 52 reboot. One is Batman, which has been the best of the bunch since the beginning, the other is Flash, which after an initial burst of invention, has lapsed back into a more formulaic approach, losing the sense that it was pushing the boundaries of what kind of stories that can be told with this character. It’s not a bad book per se, and the artistry on display is often unquestionably impressive, but I’m no longer getting the feeling that this title is really exerting itself to stay ahead of the pack. If my pull-list wasn’t so busy I might have considered sticking around, but as it’s rather overstuffed at the moment, any opportunity to trim it has to be taken, and so Flash is going to have to be dropped. Which leaves me with precisely one DC ongoing in my monthly haul. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 5/10

CARBON GREY VOL.2 #3
Writers: Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans & Mike Kennedy
Art: Khari Evans, Hoang Nguyen & Kinsun Loh
Image $3.99


Stewart R: This dieselpunk epic rumbles onwards, and despite the delays alongside the occasionally bewildering and highly involved plot I still find myself enjoying Carbon Grey as a comic property. Not a moment goes by for any of the characters where there isn’t danger stalking them or a surprise bursting out of nowhere to dispatch someone who you thought might have possibly made it a little further into their journey. It’s the constant cloud of the unexpected that keeps me engrossed despite those odd moments where I get a touch lost, having to force the grey matter to remember what has come before or figure out just what the certain political posturing and events mean. The art is as sumptuous as ever and there’s no doubt in my mind that whenever this gets collected into a compendium - we’ve still the final arc to come at some future date before that happens though - this will a) make more sense as a continuous read, and b) be one of the best looking series I have the fortune of owning. The ongoing sense of confusion hampers my ability to give this too generous a mark however and so I humbly bestow a 7/10

UNCANNY AVENGERS #4
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: John Cassaday, Laura Martin & Larry Molinar
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: I don’t imagine I’m the only person who thinks this series isn’t anyway near as good as it should be. I expected this to be the unstoppable juggernaut of the Marvel NOW! relaunch, creatively speaking - the combination of the House Of Ideas’ two premier superteams coming off the back of the generally successful Avengers Vs. X-Men event, with top tier talents Rick Remender and John Cassaday at the helm, it should have been a slam dunk. So why does it feel so flat? It’s unsurprisingly very pretty to look at – Cassaday and Martin are an enormously effective artistic combo – but I can’t escape the feeling that Remender is simply ticking the boxes, especially after such a seminal run on Uncanny X-Force (and I still think he’s not too successfully channelling Chris Claremont here). It’s almost like he’s throwing as many elements at his opening arc as he can, hoping at least some of them stick, and while admittedly he nails it on occasion (the exchange between Logan and Thor is particularly effective) overall, even with all the high octane action on display, it simply wasn’t thrilling enough. At the moment Uncanny Avengers feels like it’s less than the sum of its parts, and with the number of superior Marvel NOW! books currently hitting the shelves, I’m not sure I can sustain enough interest in it to see if Remender can get everything to click into place. 6/10

James R: Have you ever gone to an 'All You Can Eat' restaurant? It's one of those experiences which seems to be pretty uniform; at the start, you're immersed in a wave of gluttony as you keep piling on the food, but then you hit a point where you simply can't take any more. At the moment, I'm very much in the gluttony zone with Uncanny Avengers as Remender keeps serving up exactly what I want. I know it's not to everyone's taste, but Remender's narration has a brilliant lyrical feel to it: "A life spent desperately trying to prove himself and maintain some semblance of control... In a world that has only ever shown him havoc." Beautiful! One of the criticisms levelled at the early issues of this book was that the Red Skull's plan seemed a little too immediate and not widespread enough, but by the end of this issue it's clear that this was just the opening salvo in a much longer conflict. It's definitely the mark of the mind behind the last iteration of Uncanny X-Force that this instalment does not end on a tidy or an upbeat note - there was a tangible sense of darkness that I found both tantalising and hard-hitting. As for the art, you can probably guess my feelings on it: I remain in awe of John Cassaday and Laura Martin's work, and he definitely draws the best wild-eyed Red Skull! The last few pages though made me think of the 'All You Can Eat' analogy, as we are teased with an upcoming story that made me think "Can Remender really keep this up?" He's piling on one huge idea on top of another, and my small fear is that this book could collapse under the weight of it's own ambition. For now though, I'm still loving it - and if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go and get some more prawn toast and noodles... 9/10

X-MEN LEGACY #6
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jorge Molina, Norman Lee, Walden Wong & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $2.9
9

Stewart R: Wow, what an end to this arc and what a tantalising path we have ahead. Spurrier wraps up David’s attempts to prevent maniacal Luca from indulging in the murder of his sister, Blindfold, with a well thought out pursuit sequence that plays on Luca’s powers of precognition and Legion’s expanding control of his talents. There’s a terrific sense of intelligent slapstick to be found within these pages and it works well alongside David’s growing confidence and desire to become the master of his destiny. What I particularly enjoy about this book is that for every couple of steps that the protagonist takes forward in his quest to conquer his demons, Spurrier isn’t knocking him back, but is instead revealing that his path is likely to be stranger and tantalisingly littered with the potential pitfall of cataclysmic doom. It’s a shame that David’s journey will no longer be illustrated by the truly superb Jorge Molina as his work on Legacy has been simply sublime - with fine compliment from Lee, Wong and the great colours of Rachelle Rosenberg - and he provides a fittingly consistent and gorgeous issue that helps cement this as one of Marvel’s current must reads. 9/10

NEW MUTANTS #18
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60


Matt C: The cover gives a strong indication that something’s quite different here, but once you flip over the page it becomes abundantly clear that New Mutants has almost overnight morphed into something special. Sienkiewicz is the key factor in this transformation as his artwork in this issue is leagues ahead of what’s been seen in the series so far. There’s a maturity to the visuals that immediately imbues more depth to the unfolding story, and although you’re never sure if it’s the art elevating the script or the script is rising to match the art (I’m thinking the latter) it does seem as though Claremont is shaking things up, introducing Rachel Summers into the proceedings as well as a brief interlude featuring the techno-oroganic Warlock. Dani Moonstar’s confrontation with the Demon Bear is powerful stuff though, whichever way you look at it, but Sienkiewicz’s contributions make it that much more potent, especially with some beautifully composed splash pages images that have you pausing to absorb them. If this were a modern book I would have given up way before this stage, but now it finally looks like everything is clicking into place, becoming more apparent why the title holds a firm place in a lot of people’s hearts. A pretty substantial leap forward. 9/10

1 comment:

ian w said...

Guardians of the Galaxy is a nice little opener but not a patch on the original Star Lord origin,Batman Inc again nice read and as for Damian dying,boo hoo,death never lasts long in comics,so of to the Lazarus pit he goes and as for Hawkeye...Holy Moly what are they doing to him,I could go on but can't be bothered, but if this one does'nt get better anytime soon it's one I'll be dropping.