14 Apr 2013

Mini Reviews 14/04/2013

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.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #6
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuna
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Finally, a great issue of Uncanny Avengers. I’ve felt a bit ambivalent towards the title up to this point, but this is where things clicked into place and I could sense the mastermind behind Uncanny X-Force at work, bringing back one of his favourite themes: the rise of Apocalypse. There’s only one problem with this though: the newly formed, Havok-fronted team of Avengers don’t actually appear. Set approximately a thousand years ago, it depicts the first confrontation with a (younger, more arrogant) Thor and En Sabah Nur, with a descendant of a certain sharp-clawed Canadian thrown in for good measure. There’s an elegance to Acuna’s imagery that evokes a bygone era brilliantly, some of the deep colours he uses really helping to place emphasis on significant moments. There’s none of the mutant politicking that’s possibly been weighing down previous instalments, so either this boost in quality is a blip due to the focus being placed elsewhere or we’re finally seeing Remender find his feet as he heads in a more compelling direction. 8/10

James R: After the last uneven issue of Uncanny Avengers, it's good to see that Remender gets back to business with this epic time-jumping issue. We learn that Thor had a couple of previous run-ins with Apocalypse over the last thousand years - all thanks to the temporal meddling of Kang. Thor certainly seems to be going through somewhat of a renaissance of late, and Remender clearly has a blast writing the younger, arrogant Thunder God refusing to be bettered by the seemingly unbeatable mutant. I was also impressed with the art of Daniel Acuna, whose style perfectly fitted both the historical feel and the Asgardian elements of the issue. I still think that Jonathan Hickman is producing the best Avengers books for Marvel at the moment, but after the misstep of issue #5, this feels much more like it - let's hope the seeds Remender planted here bear out into a truly memorable arc. 8/10

SAGA #12
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I’d read all about the controversy surrounding this particular issue of Saga and the restrictions initially placed upon it via Comixology and it’s Apple Store extension due to panels of an explicit and homosexual nature. I then picked up this comic on Wednesday, read through it once and had to go back through again to identify just what I’d missed (I really should read these things slower!). It really is a subtle use of imagery by Fiona Staples and Brian K.Vaughan and it fits perfectly into the situation in which it’s placed, adding further depth to an important character. Considering some of the imagery used in earlier issues and the evident mature nature of the title I’m surprised that this was what set the alarm bells ringing, and let’s face it, there probably shouldn’t be any alarm bells to ring in the first place! With the controversy out of the way this actually turns into something of a surprising left turn considering that the past few issues have concentrated more on Alana, Marko and Hazel’s journey. Now the spotlight falls upon the strange form of Prince Robot IV as we catch a glimpse of his war torn past and then follow him in his efforts to track down the only lead he has in his hunt for the deserter. Vaughan’s superb grasp of scathing, witty banter is once again clear to see as the Prince firstly shares a telephone conversation with winged creep Gale that drips with disdain, and then his interaction with the cycloptic author D. Oswald Heist that oozes a strange tension and also looks at the effect of military conflict upon those who have been touched by it. This then leads to a neat cliffhanger that ensures that everyone will be back come July when the series picks back up again with #13. When creators like Vaughan and Staples are working this well together, I can easily wait a few months to get hold of another fix! 8/10

Matt C: The controversy earlier in the week that saw this issue briefly unavailable on Comixology brought Saga into the headlines for the wrong reasons, so it’s worth reiterating here that while the series may featuring a smattering of ‘proactive’ imagery, that’s really just a small part of its rather brilliant whole. Strip away all the adult content and you’ve got a recognisable tale of star-crossed lovers; Vaughan isn’t subverting any storytelling conventions here, his tale is packed with familiar ingredients, but the key factor he provides is his ability to make his (delightfully dysfunctional) characters three-dimensional individuals that are instantly relatable. That’s the core, and the cornucopia of ideas that both Vaughan and Staples pile on is the icing on the cake. This issue focuses on possibly the most intriguing character of the series, Prince Robot IV, as he continues he pursuit of Alana and Marko. It’s a tense and smartly executed chapter that keeps you on edge because it’s never entirely clear how it will play out. While I don’t share the unbridled enthusiasm some people have for Saga, I can’t deny it’s a great and somewhat unique series that succeeds primarily as a powerful human drama. 8/10

BATMAN #19
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki & Fco Plascencia
DC Comics $3.99

James R: There seems to be the feeling amongst some readers that since ‘Death of the Family’, Batman has lost its way somewhat, but for me as I wild-eyed Bat-fan Snyder and Capullo continue to do no wrong. This issue featured everything I love about Batman; a mystery, the dark brooding, the detective skills, the action, the gadgets - it's all here. Without spoiling anything, Snyder reintroduces one of the rogues gallery and manages to make them far more interesting than I can recall them being in a long time. Reviews ultimately boil down to a personal gut reaction, and this book still compels me, delivering the kind of Batman tale I enjoy every month. The one criticism I can understand is that since DC imposed a five year backstory limit on their universe, Batman's history has felt far too compacted and confusing - I look forward to Snyder's 'Year Zero' arc as if anyone can smooth things out, he certainly can. He's not reinventing the wheel here, but he delivers a flawless Batman story yet again. 8/10

HAWKEYE #9
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

James R: For a while, I wasn't convinced by Hawkeye - I never had much time for him in the pages of Avengers, and the initial solicitations for the title just made me think that this would be a pale imitation of the creative team's superlative efforts on Immortal Iron Fist. However, my friends at the PCG were so passionate about this book, I decided that I was missing out. Having caught up via the recent trade paperback, I can now proudly say that I'm a convert to trials and tribulations of Clint Barton. This issue was masterful in every department, from Fraction's time-lapse script which focuses on the women in Hawkeye's life (and specifically, his mysterious new love Darlene) to Aja's art - not just the gritty interiors, but yet another brilliant cover. There's a maxim in comics that says that there's no such thing as a bad character, just bad stories. Fraction is proving this in excelsis with Hawkeye, crafting another comic that I'd be happy to shove in the hands of the next friend who asks me "What's worth picking up at the moment?". Hawkeye is bang on target. 9/10

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #19
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Finally, an episode of the ‘Wrath of the First Lantern’ event that easily deserves a ‘thumbs up’ type review and wouldn’t you know it, it comes from the mind of Peter J. Tomasi! It appears that the First Lantern’s tedious visit to every human Lantern of note (who are not in the realm of the dead presently) is over, which means we are able to get back to some actual plot and start to see something of a fightback from our beloved Corpsmen and women! It’s clear that Tomasi has had some wiggle room in his title to move various pieces into place and make this lead-in to the event’s end an action-packed affair. I always like it when Mogo wades into things to lend a helping... ummm... gravitational force? It’s good news for me then as he provides the necessary rescue that allows the GLC a chance at mounting their resistance. Pasarin really did have his work cut out for him considering the method used in the rescue and I have to applaud him for what must have been a tiring couple of pages to work on considering that they consist of energy waves and a swarm of flying pebbles! He’s then left to deliver half a dozen or so pages of frenetic battle as the Corps tackle their deadly emotional doppelgangers and he absolutely nails it. It’s another fine example of Tomasi putting his trust in the hands of his artistic partners, just as I trust in Tomasi’s ability to deliver stories fitting of the Green Lantern Corps and dialogue befitting of its vast and varying membership. Only one more issue and then I get to mourn our passing into a darkest night without Tomasi and Pasarin on this book! 8/10

AVENGERS ARENA #7
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Alessandro Vitti & Rain Beredo
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: With six issues in the bag, Dennis Hopeless has chosen this moment to pull back the curtain and show us just how Arcade has managed to capture the sixteen young heroes and pit them against each other in his murderous competition. Many out there - readers and even those aware of the series but perhaps not picking it up - will have guessed what the deal was back when this series premiered, yet despite the reveal I’m still in for the long haul as Hopeless once again shows his deft touch when it comes to character. This issue purely focuses on Arcade’s psyche and part of his journey as a career criminal and genuinely unhinged individual. It’s a great piece of character analysis as the gaming villain realises that he’s viewed as a joke by others in the supervillain community, we see apparent regret and self-study as he acknowledges his past and inbuilt failings, and we witness that moment at rock bottom when things twist and take that upswing towards psychotic madman once again. Alessandro Vitti is a fine compliment for the aesthetic that Kev Walker has established as the regular series artist and his art here really does work well as the majority of the story happens outside of Murderworld. Some may bemoan the apparent obvious path that Hopeless has opted to take, however I still like the premise and the key will be just how the writer chooses to have this lethal journey play out and what the endgame might be. I personally have greater issues with Constrictor being portrayed as a thuggish bully and robber once again (I was a fan of his path to redemption in Avengers Initiative), but that’s just part of the fun of reading Marvel comics and I can easily let it slide considering the consistently high quality of comic production that is clearly evident every time a copy of this title hits the shelf. 9/10

DEAD MAN’S RUN #4
Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Tony Parker & Wes Hartman
Aspen $3.50

Stewart R: Six months is a long time to wait for an issue of a comic series that was only three issues young when the delay kicked in. I’d been enjoying Greg Pak’s tale of a young cartographer, dragged into a literal life and death battle to save the soul of his younger sister from the bowels of hell as well as making his own escape from the darkest prison imaginable. When seeing this appear on my pull-list I was concerned that it would be too difficult a job to pick up where we’d left off. Thankfully Pak appears to make the most friendly of nods of acknowledgement to the hiatus by providing tiny character reminders for all of Sam’s group involved in the deadly breakout during the opening skirmish and it helps right the ship immediately. From there we discover a rather heartbreaking part of the underworld nightmare that Sam finds himself in and it shows just how much thought Pak has put into this story that he’s considered so many caveats to the dark side of the afterlife here. Every time things start to look brighter for our determined protagonist another obstacle - be it physical or philosophical - presents itself and I really do enjoy the level of mistrust that is bubbling amongst the motley crew whose only shared similarity is their desire for freedom and redemption. Parker’s art style can cause some small issues when it comes to morphing character expression work between panels and varying angles of view, but aside from that it’s consistent and has provided each layer of hell with its very own identity. So, happily not crippled by the prolonged interlude, and we’ll just have to hope the following chapters appear on a more regular basis. 7/10

AGE OF ULTRON #5
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Back again, and while it’s not quite as silly as the last instalment it does seem to have come unstuck after a relatively strong start. It does however manage the not entirely unenviable feat of being smart and dumb at the same time, but Bendis hasn’t always been the best person to deliver some of his decent ideas. The issue is probably most notable for being Bryan Hitch’s last for Marvel. There are some patchy spots unquestionably, and it’s a far cry from his halcyon days on The Ultimates, but there are some scenes, such as the widescreen devastation inflicted by the Ultron drones on Austin, Texas (for no particular reason, but anyway) that very few, if any, contemporary artists can come close to matching. Halfway through and it’s starting to look more like it’ll be a disappointment when all’s said and done (quelle surprise, I suppose). Good cliffhanger though. 6/10

BATMAN AND RED ROBIN #19
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R: It took me a little while - from Robin’s death to precisely the point where I got to the end of this week’s issue and saw the next chapter to be named ‘Rage’ - to realise that what Tomasi was going to be doing was to guide us through Bruce’s life following the loss of his son and using the K├╝bler-Ross model, also known as ‘the five stages of grief, to do this. Most of the hype and furore will have gone into the inclusion of Carrie Kelley as a Robin substitute, yet Tomasi utilises her to highlight that there are parts of Damian’s life, since he became the Boy Wonder and started upon his path of heroism, that his father will have been unaware of. It’s a devilishly good twist and really does help to provide the reader with further insight into a character that they have lost as well. Tomasi opts to utilise Carrie’s appearances as bookends to a far darker story as Bruce displays his denial over Damian's death by seeking out means to enact his resurrection and Alfred is forced to call upon one of the Dark Knight’s former sidekicks to bring some sense to the tortured party. I did sneer a touch at the inclusion of a certain agent of S.H.A.D.E. upon first seeing him upon the page, but Gleason provides a cracking little scuffle between the two heroes and then Tomasi conjures some delightful dialogue from a character who knows only too well the fine balance between life and death, and the tragedy of familial loss. I’d argue that for all of the hubbub surrounding Carrie, Red Robin actually feels like the odd one out here, having little to do and not much in the way of meaningful interaction with Bruce. That still doesn’t stop this from being a cracking read and my book of the week. 9/10

NEW MUTANTS #24
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: The continuation of the story that sees Sunspot and Wolfsbane possessed by variations of Cloak and Dagger’s powers and, in all honesty, it’s a bit too ‘small scale’ to really engage properly and not the kind of thing that needs to be stretched over several issues. More interesting are the subplots that hint at increased excitement down the line, from the goings at the Hellfire Club to suggestions that Magneto may be exhibiting regret and remorse. Sienkiewicz is still pulling it out of the bag (that is one haunting cover!) but the title does seem to be running on a low gear again. 6/10

1 comment:

Andy C said...

Excellent reviews as ever. For me, Saga just gets better and better. Totally engrossing, flawless art and I think Matt hits the nail on the head when he talks about the characters being relatable. The story may not be mind-blowing but it's delivery is flawless and it feels like it matters.

Personally I loved Batman #18 but was less taken with #19 although no complaints. I seem to be enjoying Batgirl even more than the main title at the moment.