21 Apr 2013

Mini Reviews 21/04/2013

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.

AGE OF ULTRON #6
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Roger Martinez, Paul Mounts & Jose Villarrubia
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: After two decidedly ropey instalments things unexpectedly get back on track with the sixth chapter of this miniseries. Nick Fury has taken a group of survivors to the future (via Doc Doom’s time machine) to tackle Ultron head on,  but Wolverine has other ideas, namely returning to the past to attempt to stop Ultron ever getting past the concept stage by taking out his creator, Hank Pym.  It offers a great juxtaposition: one party goes for the heroic approach while the other takes a more pragmatic view of things, neatly referencing the well-worn sci-fi staple of going back in time to kill Hitler, sacrificing one to save millions. I’m a big fan of Pacheco, so his ‘past’ sections are the visual highlights (and the philosophical ones too, for that matter), and overall the loss of Bryan Hitch isn’t really felt, particularly as the narrative is now headed in a different direction. I was getting ready to write Age Of Ultron off but now it looks like it may very well have got a second wind. 8/10

X-O MANOWAR #12
Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Cary Nord & Moose Baumann
Valiant Entertainment $3.99

Stewart R: X-O Manowar is a very strange, yet regular presence upon my pull list each month. I found the initial arc to be really interesting as the history of the Vine civilisation along with their Earth-based subterfuge slowly unfurled, counterbalanced nicely with the entertainment of Aric’s headstrong and foolhardy confidence at being able to blast his enemies to smithereens. We’re now easily a year in and unfortunately where those two elements once held things together, they’re now causing something of a conflicted read. Aric’s Visigoth mentality is apparently preventing him from learning ANYTHING aside from how to unleash bigger and brighter devastation on those who do or do not directly oppose him and it’s left this title without a protagonist who you want to actually side with. The Vine on the other hand actually provide the drive of any character development and the hierarchy and history involved in this strange people and their generations of captive human slaves promises much, yet gets stomped over by Aric or various Vine military elements constantly spoiling for a fight. The other small issue to pop a thorn in the side of this title is Cary Nord’s artwork which crashes back and forth between effective and over-simplistic too often for reading comfort. All the criticisms now clear to see I will add that I’m not giving up on X-O Manowar just yet as I feel that we’re not quite beyond the tipping point and if Venditti can see some way of slipping his lead character out of his one-dimensional rut then there is further potential to be explored here.  6/10

BATWOMAN #19
Writers: J. H. Williams & W. Haden Blackman
Art: Trevor McCarthy & Guy Major
DC Comics $2.99

James R: Batwoman is becoming an increasingly tough title to review for me. I hung on throughout the first year of the book as I read that J. H. Williams had promised an 'Espionage' arc after the seemingly endless Weeping Woman supernatural hi-jinx. Now it's here, the book has certainly improved, but I still feel it's dropping short of what it could be. Back when the character took over Detective Comics, there was a real vibrancy and dynamism in the book - the relationship between Jacob Kane and his two daughters gave the narrative a real solid foundation, and I was convinced that there was much to come from the world of Batwoman. A few years down the line, the title feels like it's given up what made it so compelling, and has drafted in a roster of secondary characters who I find it tough to get invested in. The problem here could be crystallised in two words: Greg Rucka - I think the title has missed his creative spark terribly, and despite their best efforts, DC's replacements haven't quite hit the mark. It's also tough when the art isn't the sublime work of J. H. Williams. Trevor McCarthy does a fine job, but it is a little like having to eat a frozen burger after a sumptuous steak. It's still not a bad comic, but I can't escape the feeling it should be one of the Crown Jewels of DC. At the moment, it's more of a fading star. 6/10

DANGER CLUB #5
Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Art: Eric Jones, Michael ‘Rusty’ Drake & Garry Black
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The big, fat delay between issues that many Image titles can suffer from - and occasionally return unscathed to the pull list as if nothing had happened - has unfortunately had a bit of an impact on Danger Club purely because the cast was, and is of a generous size and the layers of cross and double-cross that Walker had been playing with meant that a good amount of concentration had been required during those earlier reads. As a result this review comes with me having to dig through my back issues at some near point to reacquaint myself with the many threads of this decent enough plot and figure out just what some characters motivations and intentions were all those months ago. Regardless, the geriatric and power-hungry American Spirit and his reconstituted sidekick, Jacky Fearless are good twisted reflection of Marvel’s Captain America and Bucky Barnes and I’m enjoying the idea that a symbol of freedom and liberty could then be corrupted by time and power as the years and heavy losses rolled on. The clash between the two former friends is as blood spattered as I’ve come to expect with this story and Eric Jones is hitting the ‘flesh and bone’ reality of this brand of superpowered antics perfectly, ensuring that the stakes remain constantly high as the young heroes are forced to put everything on the line and the crimson runs and runs. The important thing here is that I actually want to go back and remind myself of everyone’s part in this grisly opera and with a tasty cliffhanger spurring me on further, it’s safe to say that I'm happy to see Danger Club is back and seemingly around to stay. 7/10

DAREDEVIL #25
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: A mysterious, unknown figure is still systematically taking Matt Murdock’s life apart one piece at a time, and this issue we get one step closer to finding it how it is. Essentially this issue consists of an extended fight sequence, which isn’t an unusual sight to see in the pages of a superhero comic, but where it can often descend into dull repetitiveness fairly quickly, here Waid’s familiarity and skill with the genre turns this into a riveting page-turner. Time and again, the writer has brought the titular character’s radar sense to the fore, using it as a tool to drive the plot in a more prominent way than others have done in the past (always aided by artists – like Samnee – who get the concept across visually with complete confidence), and here he brings things to the boil with an opponent who possesses the same abilities. This leads to Daredevil trying every trick in the book only to have ass repeatedly handed to him, and there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing a hero brought to his knees because you know when he gets back on his feet he’ll be more determined than ever to triumph. I may not highlight this title as much as I should – it’s kind of been overshadowed by Marvel NOW! of late – but it remains a solid, often inspired and consistently entertaining monthly dose of edgy superheroism. 8/10

CYBER FORCE #4
Writer: Marc Silvestri
Art: Khoi Pham, Sal Regla & Andy Troy
Top Cow $0.00

Stewart R: Top Cow are still giving this to us for free and I’m still picking it up each time. I have seen a few friends and comic book acquaintances mention in the past week on Twitter that they’ve left this behind now and I can understand why they probably have. This is one of the most ‘1990s’ comics that I’ve read in a long time. It’s full of bravado, machismo, crass dialogue, little in the way of uplifting comedy and there seems to be little more than two sides to the characters - the one when they’re running away, the other when they’re charging towards someone! But somewhere, just buried under the surface is an intriguing story of power, family and a plot to try to save the world from total annihilation. Silvestri does well to keep us reminded that this is a race against the clock and the story gains much of its strength from so much hinging upon the convoluted family politics and history of young Carin Taylor. As things continue it does feel as though she’s fading a little too far into plot device territory - along with Ripclaw and Ares who are seemingly just in it for the ride at this stage - to make way for Stryker’s story and to allow his personality to come to the fore. It’ll certainly be interesting to see where the focus of this series lies come the point at #6 where we start having to pay for it. One thing for certain though is that Khoi Pham’s art in this instalment is possibly his best of the run to date and this is worth picking up to look at his contribution if nothing else. 7/10

FIVE GHOSTS #2
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere
Art: Chris Mooneyham, S.M. Vidaurri & Lauren Affe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Mystery meet Action Adventure, Action Adventure may I present Mystery! This second chapter continues the breathless pace of the debut as Fabian and Sebastian (I had to look up the name of Fabian’s bespectacled companion in the first comic as the only name mentioned in this edition is that of Fabian’s about a dozen or so times!) are held captive by a deadly spider-tribe and things look bleak indeed. This has the feel of a bewildering Tarzan or similar adventure movie from the mid 20th Century with little requiring explanation or deep exposition as the story plunges ever onwards with the heroes trying to avoid death from a host of differing angles. Fabian’s struggles with his powers/possession keeps the tension balanced, as does Sebastian’s evident unpowered frailty in the face of tarantula behemoths and Zhang Guo’s appearance and influence on proceedings gives rise to the required questions that will hopefully be answered next time out. The art from Mooneyham and Vidaurri helps to evoke that desired sense of pulp magazine nostalgia while retaining the feel of a contemporary book and with the rather dialogue-lite script they can take much of the credit for the excitement that carries this tale on. There is the argument that a guarantee of some answers and a little fleshing out of the plot may be required next time, but there’s no doubt that this was fun by the barrel load this week. 8/10

NOVA #3
Writer: Jeph Leob
Art: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vibes & Marte Gracia
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This is starting to get a bit too formulaic for my tastes, with the son tripping up as he tries to follow in his father’s footsteps. It’s a perfectly fine read, handsomely produced (McGuinness’s style definitely suits the cosmic setting), and with the exception of the rather bizarre meeting with the Watcher at the beginning (as well as looking like a giant baby, Uatu seems to have now taken to acting like one!) it’s only real flaw is that it’s very predictable. The scene with Sam and his mother is strong but elsewhere I found it hard to muster the enthusiasm and fully engage with the lead character. I can see it connecting with a lot of folks, and it’s certainly Loeb’s best work for Marvel for a long time, but unless it heads off in a completely unexpected direction I’m likely to be done after the opening arc has concluded. 6/10

THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #8
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Can there be any other comic book currently on the shelf, month after month where so many people must audibly shout or scream at the page time and again and then return so eagerly to see what happens in the next chapter?! Dan Slott is making Otto’s path to redemption incredibly painful as he continues to evade the curtain being lifted on his deception, takes the law into his own hands with increasing levels of brutality and all too often seems to fall back into the train of thought that had him trying to take over the world or scorch it beyond recognition. The truly interesting thing is that Slott has imbued this ‘new’ Octavius with an incredibly broad personality that shows a step of good growth for every hobble into his dark and evil past. Peter’s aura on the other hand is pinned down as the one-note victim, borderline helpless in the face of the horrors he sees being perpetrated in his names and upon his life and while the threat to that last spark of the hero we know is palpable, he’s actually the lesser interesting aspect of the new status quo. Bringing Cardiac into the picture has proven to be a touch of genius as his ambiguous nature as a doctor, vigilante and questionable villain echoes the foreign situation that Otto finds himself now in with so many contradictions to balance. This is shaping up to be one of the great Spider-Man stories and clearly one we’ll all be talking about for years to come. 9/10

X-MEN LEGACY #9
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Tan Eng Huat, Craig Yeung & José Villarrubia
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Another great cover from Mike Del Mundo kicks off another great issue of this developing series. Spurrier is now leading us through Legion’s views on mutantkind, the fight that they face as a species and just how he believes those threats should be handled. I’m a big fan of the way Spurrier’s using David and Ruth’s courtship as the means to assess and discuss the argument of preemptive, proactive and ethically questionable action in the name of the greater good and the thin line between hypotheticals and true response. What’s really refreshing is the way in which the X-Men are being looked at as a rather rigid and outdated mode of resistance and retaliation in the face of dangers too powerful to potentially be left unchecked and it’s an interesting allegorical comparison to the basis of terrorism and crime prevention in the 21st Century world, especially considering such real-life events like those that unfolded Stateside this very week. Thanks to the way that this is portrayed as an earnest discussion between a young couple, the story avoids the trap of coming across as ‘preachy’ and the emotional train-wreck that is left come the final page shows just how varied this writer’s style can be. 8/10

NEW MUTANTS #25
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: The final chapter of this overlong arc turns out to be the best as the New Mutants and co attempt to exorcise Cloak and Dagger’s powers from Roberto and Rahne before it’s too late. It’s quite a dialogue-heavy issue, but while Claremont has been known on occasion to use a hundred words when ten will do, it works here as he really draws the humanity out of the characters, emphasising they’re fears and insecurities. Even Professor X comes off as far less creepy than usual which, considering how he’s been portrayed in this series so far, is saying something! Possibly the ending of this tale is the most effective because it brings Cloak and Dagger to the fore in a way they weren’t in previous instalments but the lingering feeling remains that this could have been all wrapped up in half the time. Strong, distinctive art as is now expected from Sienkiewicz, although that cover isn’t one of his best. 7/10

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