7 Apr 2013

Mini Reviews 07/04/2013

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: Jason Aaron
Art: Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It’s questionable whether anyone was actually waiting on someone to tell the origin of the Death-obsessed mad god Thanos, but we’ve seen a number of these attempts to explain the roots of super-villainy in recent years, some more effective than others, and with his cameo at the end of the Avengers movie his turn was bound to come sooner rather than later. Yet again Marvel seems to be on the nurture side of the argument – no one is born evil, they’re just forced into that mindset due to their situation and surroundings. Greg Pak made that idea work in Magneto Testament and, to a lesser extent, Red Skull, but that was helped by the historical backdrop of real world horrors and the decision to ditch most of the superhero genre trappings. So, even though I have the highest admiration for Jason Aaron (Scalped was a bona fide masterpiece and Thor: God Of Thunder is tremendously good) he doesn’t appear to have cracked how to make this tale of young Thanos work. My gut tells me it’s because it would have been better to leave it to mystery and character recollection rather than watching a funny looking kid being led down a dark path by manipulation and circumstance. Simone Bianchi is an artist whose style I’ve never been especially keen on, but I can admire the craft on display even though the imagery by and large leaves me cold. I was curious about this series rather than excited but now I find myself thinking I’d prefer not to see Thanos of Titan ‘humanised’ – he’s one character that works far better as pure, calculating malevolence without the need for explanation of how he came to be that way. 5/10

James R: I'll have to whisper this - I've never been a big fan of Marvel's 'Cosmic' titles. As a man who loves SF, I often feel that the second the comics go for stellar adventures, it all feels slightly pulpy and a little trite. I've no doubt that the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie and inevitably Avengers 2 will help me see things from another point of view, but in this medium I remain unconvinced. I gave Thanos Rising a shot as I love Jason Aaron, and it's his talent alone that's made Wolverine & The X-Men one of my favourite books. I couldn't see any of this magic here though, and I felt this was an underwhelming read. I was reminded of the Before Watchmen: Moloch mini series in which the book was perfectly fine and well executed but felt totally superfluous. Sometimes an origin doesn't need to be told in great detail - for a villain like Thanos, you only need broad brush strokes - and while the story is written and illustrated well enough, I just couldn't find anything compelling in the tale. We often say that our wallets help decide our pull-lists, and at $3.99, I can't justify coming back for more here. For such a high-profile title, this felt like the definition of mediocre. 5/10

Stewart R: When looking at established characters in the Marvel Universe from a retrospective viewpoint - especially in mini series designed specifically for the task -  I’m always prepared for the journey to be a touch slower and more involving than perhaps I am of regular and ongoing titles and publications. Aaron is going to look over the dark and troubled history of one of the most destructive men in the Galaxy through five issues and in this debut he looks at the formative years of the eventual Avatar of Death and how his mutation set him instantly apart from the rest of Titan’s population. I really enjoyed the way that Aaron suggests that Thanos’ destiny was almost always predetermined; his mother’s immediate horror upon seeing her son for the first time acting as a great prophecy of doom for her people and the Universe as a whole, then repeated a little later with Thanos himself experiencing a recurring dream that foreshadows his deadly and tragic legacy. From there Aaron leads us through small glimpses of the young man’s childhood and I particularly like the way that everything points towards a sense of fate, rather than hatred born from bullying or severe mistreatment at the hands of others. I’ve read several comics where Thanos has been the antagonist and he’s nearly always been portrayed as an outsider, a loner who has accepted his burden as an instrument of the greater cosmos - whether that is the actual case or not - who then becomes fixated to the point of insanity with an inability to empathise with those 'beneath him' and a pure, unceasing desire to understand his lethal place in the infinitely complex grander scheme. Aaron has done a fine job of providing a first step on a journey no doubt plagued with tragedy, Bianchi’s artwork is suitably brooding yet instills a terrific sense of innocence within the young protagonist and I look forward to learning more of the Mad Titan’s past as this progresses. 8/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Caanan White, Keith Williams & Digikore Studios
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: A well-researched and inventive reimagining of the final days of WWII, introducing the superhero concept into the proceedings to alter the course of history, Über is as grimly violent as you’d expect from Avatar but also as smart as you’d hope from a writer like Gillen. It’s April 1945, the Russians are closing in on Berlin, and Germany’s looking like it’s about to become definitive loser of the conflict… and it’s at this point the Nazis pull out they’re latest weapon, the Ubers, genetically altered humans with an unbelievable level of destructive power. Tales of Nazis and superpowered beings generally appeal to me, and Gillen is clearly taking a more logical and realistic (relatively speaking) approach with his tale, but while this #0 issue had a lot of positives there were a few elements that prevented it sitting firmly in the ‘win’ column.  For starters, it appears like Gillen is trying to cram too many plot threads in too quickly, and while I can’t fault the ambition it does makes things slightly confusing, especially when some of those threads seem superfluous at this point. On top of that, while there’s plenty to recommend in White’s illustrations, there are a number of occasions where characters appear indistinguishable from one another visually, making it harder to latch onto anyone as the story unfolds. An impressive opening but hopefully more clarity will be forthcoming as the series progresses. 7/10

James R: I really wanted to love this book. All the ingredients were there - the brilliant Kieron Gillen, WW2, 44 ad-free pages at $3.99 - so it pains me to say that this comic left me really cold. Firstly, there was a sense of 'seen this before' - not in the sense of the WW2 supermen that Gillen mentions in his backmatter, but in Warren Ellis' No Hero, another Avatar title that felt very similar to this (renegade scientists, unstoppable superhumans, alternative history, decapitations aplenty). From his concluding remarks here, it's clear that Gillen has done a huge amount of research for this title, and it's a fine statement he makes in claiming that he set out to write "A book about humans and their relationship with power." However, I didn't see much evidence of that here, there was just the standard 'War is horrible, now here are some people ripped to bits.' I'll look at the next issue to see if Gillen shifts the focus to something more challenging, but combined with art of Caanan White (which looked a little under-par) I can't see this being in the same league is Gillen's other stellar output. 5/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe & Heather Breckel
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: And so Ota’s and our half century journey comes to an end as the aging A.M.F. veteran dives into the fight first hand to help out the titular behemoth in a battle against two of the most fearsome kaiju to have ever made Earthfall. While the preceding chapters bristled with a great sense of adventure and mystery this finale carries a slightly different mood with it, one of acceptance. It’s been great to see Ota steadily reveal a sense of understanding of his quarry, an idea that the atomic giant simply remains as an unfathomable force of nature, yet one that carries no sense of malevolence within it. As the action ratchets up it really does become one of those comic experiences where you border on actually cheering on the protagonists as they duel with such destructive and dangerous powers. Stokoe’s eye and hand have been in breathtaking shape throughout the five chapters and he’s clearly one of the top guys when it comes to unleashing kinetic and frenetic upon the page. The climax of this issue is expertly handled and perfectly shows that while Godzilla’s name has been stamped upon the cover each time, we’ve been walking in someone else’s footsteps throughout, and what a journey that has been. Do not miss this when it’s released in a collected format, it’s monstrously good. 9/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: So I said I’d give it three issues and if they all passed muster I’d sign up for the rest, and they did indeed thrill to an extent where I decided that the annoyances weren’t enough of a distraction to keep me from jumping straight in. And now we get to the fourth issue and things start going awry thanks to a ridiculously stupid plot point (or two). Without getting to far into spoiler territory (skip to the next review if you’re really adverse to even hints of spoilers!) there are some fatalities here, obviously expected in a series like this, but one supposedly indestructible character is dispatched far too easily while another manages to survive, albeit barely, something that should have turned him into a cinder. It’s inconsistent storytelling… acutally, it’s just plain bad storytelling, and it’s the kind of thing that turned me off Bendis’ writing in the first place. Even Hitch’s work doesn’t seem to be as tight as it was in the preceding few chapters, almost coming across like the artist was aware his Marvel contract was coming to an end and was just doing what was required of him, nothing more.  There was still some decent stuff within this issue but I’m now wondering if I’m going to be pulling my hair out as this thing goes on rather than treating like something of a guilty pleasure. 5/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Steve Pugh & Lovern Kindzierski
DC Comics $2.99

James R: In a week that has to go down as another exasperating one for DC (the news of Carrie Kelly being a potential new Robin and a most underwhelming summer event in the form of the Trinity War show that the creative well seems to be particularly dry at 1700 Broadway) it is reassuring to see that Jeff Lemire remains a class apart. This issue deals with the fallout of Cliff Baker's death at the conclusion of 'Rotworld' last month, and Buddy's sorrowful attempt to renounce his position as Animal Man. Not only is the script written with the sophistication that you'd expect from Lemire, but it's the most human of tales. All of us feel the sorrow of loss at some point in our lives, and find ourselves asking why life can be so cruel - the second part of the issue deals directly with Buddy asking these questions and the book really resonates as a result. In the wake of the 'Requiem' issues in the Batman titles, it's a shame that Cliff Baker's death has been largely ignored. A brave issue beautifully illustrated by Steve Pugh and Lovern Kindzierski, this title not only continues to be a great read, but looks like it's getting better and better. An Animal Man with a very human heart makes for a great comic. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ardian Syaf, Szymon Kudranski, Mark Irwin, Guillermo Ortego, Alex Sinclair & Tony Avina
DC $2.99

Stewart R: The penultimate issue of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern reign falls into our laps and I’m still not convinced by the pacing of this Wrath of the First Lantern event in the slightest. Johns once again clearly has a fine grasp of Sinestro’s voice and complex character and the moments following his escape from the Dead Zone and his journey to Korugar are great examples of a man so strong willed yet whose heart is perpetually filled with guilt, anger and emotional turmoil. Hal’s continued presence in the Dead Zone however just feel like page-burning filler as he seems to take an age discussing a course of action that we all know he’s going to take thanks to a reveal Johns put in place many issues earlier, so lingering on the point appears pointless and proves to be frustrating for the reader. And then we get to the crux of the problem in the form of the First Lantern. His reality altering abilities are making for rather annoying and confusing reading as it’s clear that he’s evidently baiting all of his targets into powering him, yet there’s never any weight put into confirming just when this actually happens. This seems to be more of an artistic issue as there’s never any clear or consistent indication of his power growing - he can alter reality regardless of how the ‘fight’ is unfolding - and it’s resulted in a storyline that bizarrely manages to feel incredibly disjointed and at the same time bound firmly to the rail tracks of inevitability. I’ve never felt like the Lanterns have been able to put up any resistance that wasn’t desired and required from the antagonist and so there’s little room for surprise. The art itself - from Syaf and Kudranski either side of the Dead Zone’s borders - is strong, competent stuff in the main, it’s just a pity that they’re apparently illustrating a comic that appears to be unable to contain all of the many ideas and character points that the writer wants to involve in his farewell efforts.  5/10

Writers: Brian Posehn & Gerry Duggan
Art: Scott Koblish & Val Staples
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Back in the Bronze Age, publishers used to horde “inventory issues” for those occasions where creators couldn’t meet deadlines. These were issues written, drawn and then kept on file in the event of nothing else being available. Deadpool editor Jordan D. White advises us on the first page that while inventory stories are now things of the past, as the Merc with a Mouth’s current creative team were unable to rustle the next chapter of their ongoing storyline in time for issue #7 he was forced to dig deep and locate an old Deadpool story from tge late ‘70s/early ‘80s that had never seen the light of day… until now. And it’s brilliant! Posehn and Duggan tear through this tale with glee, affectionately ripping the piss out of various staples and conventions from the era and supplying the highest gag per page rate of the series yet, as Deadpool accepts a mission from a demon to try and get Tony Stark back on the sauce. Koblish and Staples ape the style of the era perfectly and even the letter’s page gets in on the joke. One of the funniest books to hit the stands this year and if you’ve been mulling over whether or not to try this series out, this is the issue to get. 9/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Cloak and Dagger may appear on the front but the barely feature in this issue, certainly not enough to warrant cover star status. I’m beginning to wonder if the thrill of seeing Sienkiewicz join the book is starting to wear off as not even his visuals seem able to help the rather listless plotting currently found within these pages. Claremont was always one for juggling multiple plotlines at once but I’m hoping one of them bubbles up to prominence, and soonish, because I’m not sure how many more forgettable issues I’m prepared to wade through. 6/10

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