9 Jun 2013

Mini Reviews 09/06/2013

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 #9
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Roger Bonet, Paul Mounts & Jose Villarrubia
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Is this the moment where the narrative becomes unmoored and drifts into a sea of implausibility? There have been a few bumps along the way up to this point, but generally I've been far more impressed with this series than expected. Unfortunately Bendis seems to have written himself into a situation where no amount of momentum-slowing exposition can help him out. This is the penultimate issue but reads like it should have been at the end of the second act at the latest, and it's not made any better by the number of time-travelling paradoxes that present themselves only to be swiftly ignored. I guess it will all come down to how Bendis resolves things in the final instalment, but while I had been quite optimistic up until now, that’s not so much the case anymore. 6/10

DIAL H #13
Writer: China Mieville
Art: Alberto Ponticelli, Tanya & Richard Horie
DC $2.99

James R: It's almost fitting that this book is a misfit amongst the DC Universe. Since its first issue last year, novelist China Mieville has quietly gone about crafting one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive superhero comics being published today. However, it had the misfortune of being released at the exact moment that DC decided to all-but shut down Vertigo, and consequently was poorly marketed as part of the New 52 when in reality it has nothing to do with the hamfisted revamp of the mainstream titles. This issue is indicative of the invention that Mieville has transplanted from his prose fiction. The Dial Bunch find themselves in a dimension which is made up of living graffiti. The brilliant Open-Window Man (inspired by the open window rather than the Bat that flew through it) finds his scrawled analogue and spends the issue guiding him in crime-fighting while trying to find a way into their 2D world. It's every bit as mad as it sounds, but it works perfectly as it uses the convention and language of comics, twisting the assumptions you might have as an experienced and cynical fanboy. This is all made possible by some brilliant pencils by Albero Ponticelli, and it breaks my heart that Dial H will only have a limited lifespan (it was languishing at 157 in the March Diamond sales charts). It deserves much better, and I hope that it gets a second life in trade. But right now, it's easily my book of the week. 9/10

ALL-NEW X-MEN #12
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Rain Beredo
Marvel $3.99

James R: Another issue of All-New X-Men, and it’s another one where it all just doesn't quite click for me. I've mulled over it for a couple of days, and it simply comes down to an 'elephant in the room' factor. After 12 issues, not one of the characters seems to be making a concerted effort to deal with a whole gang of people who are in the wrong time! After watching the greatly divisive Star Trek Into Darkness recently (stay with me here!) as part of my critique I invoked J.R.R. Tolkien's theory of 'Secondary Belief' - you can make anything happen in a story and an audience will go with it - Time travel? Sure. Parallel dimensions? Why not? - but the moment an author starts to break the rules they've established, they lose their audience. It's the same for me here. Bendis is intent on grounding the story in a recognisable world (observe scenes like young Scott Summers and 'Bottled water?' a few issues back, and how urgently SHIELD pursue the X-Men when suspected of being behind Mystique and Co.'s heists) but then shows no urgency in resolving a plot that - even in the world of mutants and supe-powers - would need a resolution urgently! So as nice as this issue is, once again we have a cast that don't seem over-concerned with the original X-Men running around the present day. Here Alex Summers tells young Scott "But you have to go back." before the subject is dropped for some Jean Grey/Scarlet Witch fireworks. It's a fine looking comic, and the title as a whole is moving at an admirable rate, but at the heart of i, Bendis needs to address the time travel paradox soon - it's making my suspension of disbelief hang by a thread. 6/10

BEDLAM #7
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Ryan Browne & Jean-Paul Csuka
Image $3.50

Stewart R: What we have here is an important issue as not only does Bedlam #7 mark the start of the new arc and continuation of Madder Red’s rehabilitated alter ego in the form of Fillmore, but also the handover of art duties from Riley Rossmo to Ryan Browne. Rossmo certainly has a unique and identifiable style that is not easy to resemble, let alone replicate, yet Browne conjures up an initial flashback sequence, rendered only in black, grey, red and white as the debut was, that instantly has that Bedlam 'feel' to it. From there he’s able to branch into his own style a little more, but the scratchy, trace and momentum lines scatter across the pages and help to maintain the feeling of continuity. On Spencer’s side of things it’s clear that he’s now trying to paint a bigger picture as the city council need to come up with ways of tackling the worrying increase in specialised and unique murder crimes and assess their ability to deal with a world that they don’t understand. The captivating subplot that weaves its way through this book is both mysterious and well realised - the everyday moments and stark change of direction put me in mind of Matt Kindt’s recent work with Mind MGMT - and the hooks are definitely in my brain now to ensure that Bedlam #8 is a must read for next month. 8/10

AVENGERS #13
Writers: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: After the last instalment (which is probably my favourite single issue of the year so far) the conclusion to the Savage Land arc wasn't quite solid gold but it was still a damn fine comic. Without being unfair on the man, I'm not sure how much of this was due to the introduction of Nick Spencer as co-writer, but the magic of issue #12 wasn't present here. We find out that the High Evolutionary wants to use the Children as batteries for a resurrected Terminus, which is fine, but felt a bit unambitious, as Thor and Hyperion take care of the situation in two pages! I would have liked a little more invention. Knowing Hickman, I'm sure the Children have some far more elaborate role to play down the line, but here it seemed to be a missed opportunity. One thing that was superb was the art - once again, it seems that Mike Deodato has found an extra gear working on this book, and Frank Martin's beautiful colours are complementing his work magnificently. Still a brilliant Avengers book, just not the best issue of the run. 8/10

TEN GRAND #2
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Ben Templesmith
Image $2.99

Matt C: Comics are an expensive habit to maintain, as I'm sure we're all aware, so sometimes you need to make hard decisions for the benefit of your bank account. As such, Ten Grand is dropped. Now, I don't want to give the impression that this is a bad book, it's just not clicked for me in the way it should at this point. I could quite easily continue purchasing it and maintain some level of enjoyment, but you do have to draw the line somewhere. I will say it's not the clone of Hellblazer some are accusing it of being, and both Stracyznksi and Templesmith are distinctive talents, the writer with his perceptive take on human emotions and the artist's brilliantly moody and murky style, but I can already see it gradually slipping down my pile to the 'read last' place whichever week it's released, so I think it wise to bail sooner rather than later. 6/10

THANOS RISING #3
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Simone Bianchi & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Midway point, ladies and gentlemen, and though it’s a tad premature to declare it I feel I must state that Jason Aaron is close to providing us with the definitive history lesson for one of the most tenacious and complex villains in the Marvel canon. Keenly aware of his death-dealing abilities, yet no clearer to understanding his purpose or finding direction, the Mad Titan, now a young man, heads out into the universe in search of answers and tries to embrace life rather than the darker, deadly temptations that seem to follow him at every turn. The great thing here is seeing such an evidently powerful and intelligent man trying to run from a destiny that he is steadily realizing may be inescapable and may also be his greatest secret desire. Aaron has certainly not made Thanos a likeable character - he’s far too withdrawn and clinical in his thought processes and actions, not to mention he's a serial killer! - yet there’s a level of empathy that has been attained as we witness him questioning his existence at every turn and that’s the key success here. As Thanos looks into the eyes of a newborn to see if he has passed on the fascinating darkness that troubles him so (expertly portrayed by the steady hands of Simone Bianchi), there’s a sense of loneliness as he finds less and less that he can relate with and to in such a vibrant and chaotic reality. This is character-driven writing at its very best and I simply can’t wait to see what we get next. 9/10

THE HYPERNATURALS #12
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Tom Derenick, Andres Guinaldo, BIT and Stephen Downer
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: I had it in the back of my head somewhere that this was going to be an ongoing series and because I wasn’t paying attention I was quite surprised and disappointed to see that this issue marked the finale in a twelve-part example of how you create a new science fiction comic book universe. Abnett and Lanning offer a conclusion to the great disaster that has been threatening to break and consume the cosmos and it’s one that is worthy of the terrific journey that they have given us. Characters such as Thinkwell and Sublime have really stood out as the series has progressed, allowing DnA’s quantum physics and philosophical ideas to flow through them and provide needed exposition to teammates and the audience alike when required. There have been many ‘big ideas’ sewn through this book and to be honest it is these that have been beating at the very heart of a very human story doused in fear, confusion, loss, unrealised potential and the determination to win through. On the artistic side of things main guy Tom Derenick delivers quite possibly his best contribution of the series capturing the sense of overwhelming panic perfectly, while Guinaldo is now firmly fixed on my radar with his exemplary flashback sequences. When you’re looking for a writing duo to build you a brand spanking new comic book universe, DnA are rightly top of the list and first on speed dial and they’ve accomplished the feat of delivering a sterling, self-contained series that could sprout the shoots of new ideas, characters and sequels at any time. 9/10

EAST OF WEST #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

Matt C: If you’ve made the decision to read East Of West it’s kind of like you’ve entered into a pact with Jonathan Hickman, one that states that you agree to treat the book with the respect it deserves, don’t dismiss it as a throwaway pop culture product, and in return the writer will deliver scripts that require concentration, time and effort, that exhibit a refusal to speak down to the reader and also reflect back the respect that’s been given. If that means you have to read issues multiple times to catch every nuance, or refresh your memory prior to cracking open the latest instalment, so be it. It may not be the easiest read, but it’s one of the most intelligent and ambitious books on the stands, and you get an immediate sense that it will reward your devotion in the long run. That it’s so beautifully illustrated by an artist who implicitly comprehends the scope and tone of the tale is the icing on the cake. Now excuse me while I go off to re-read the first three issues again. 8/10

Stewart R: Image seems to be the ‘House of Burgeoning Ongoing Fictional Worlds' these days, what with the black comedy gold spreading in the modern land of Layman and Guillory’s Chew, and the vast galactic fantasy reality of Vaughan and Staples’ Saga. It’s safe to say that Hickman and Dragotta’s East Of West has instantly slotted in alongside those books on the podium of success with three high quality issues now in the bag. Unlike the two previously mentioned titles, East Of West is still without a clear protagonist as Hickman introduces us to more of The Chosen who once interfered with Death’s destiny and are now seemingly at the mercy of an unflinching and final end. Some might point to Death as the protagonist, but he doesn’t get enough page time to allow that to be the case and with the interesting and colourful cast consisting of the other three horsemen in their prepubescent forms and the likes of Mao and his intriguing daughters in New Shanghai it means that this romps along joyously with the story and the atmosphere the two main points of focus rather than any one individual. Hickman excels when it comes to comic writing with such a rich and diverse cast and the odd flashbacks we’re privy to enhance the growing tension as the head count mounts and we can see the apocalyptic carnage peek its head above the horizon. The Dragotta/Martin combination is working in beautiful harmony as they continue to make this one of the most visually alluring books on the stands and the whole creative team continue to craft a fantasy world that I just want to immerse myself within every single month. 9/10

WINTER SOLDIER #19
Writer: Jason Latour
Art: Nick Klein
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: And so it all ends! Eight years after Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back from the dead as the Winter Soldier, had him regain his sense of purpose, don the red, white and blue of his best friend and then return to the shadows as his past failed to leave him be and Jason Latour took over, Marvel have finally pulled the plug for the immediate future. While this finale isn’t quite on a par with the excellent preceding issue, it is a fitting end to Latour and Klein’s arc and rounds off what has been a decent look into the casualties and deep scars caused by secretive government and military manipulation. The time travel sequence works well in the context of Bucky and Tesla’s shared history and I particularly enjoyed the way that Latour delivers Tesla’s moment of clarity alongside Bucky’s explanation of why he wouldn’t go back and change anything. Klein is a fine Winter Soldier artist and he manages to keep the flashbacks, time-travel manipulations and current events moving together in cohesive fashion without any confusing overlap, and that’s none too easy a task in stories such as this. This is a worthy au revoir to the Winter Soldier told by a creative team who clearly love the character and his history and I don’t think we’re likely to see a final page that proves that point so poignantly this year. 8/10

SUICIDE RISK #2
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Elena Casagrande & Andrew Elder
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: My initial praise of this series hinged on the idea that we were going to be seeing human police officers having to deal with powered criminals and villains who threatened to overwhelm the boys in blue at every turn. It was that sort of David and Goliath, underdog struggle that had captured my imagination and now it seems that that’s not the story we’re going to be getting. In this second chapter it becomes clear that Leo has indeed managed to have his latent ability unlocked and now he’s on a personal mission to take down those who have killed, maimed and crippled his colleagues and friends. That description does however oversimplify what Carey is trying to do here as it becomes clear that he’s analysing how a superpower works in a ‘real world’ setting, diving into the high level physics that are affecting Leo’s life and his competence with his newfound ‘gift’. There’s definitely something not quite right with the family life that Leo has and I’m taking it as testament to Carey’s writing skills that this is an intended feeling of unease rather than any dialogue/art misstep. Casagrande provides another capable turn with pencil and ink, catching subtle asides in panels that show Leo’s ongoing lack of control with his powers as well as some tasty expression work when cross words and hard talks are had at either the police station or later in a confrontation of the potentially lethal variety. Now that it’s clearer what this title is going to be about I’m focussing less on the missed opportunity and more on where Carey and Casagrande are going to lead us next. 7/10

NEW MUTANTS #32
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Steve Leialoha & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.65

Matt C: A step up. A slight one, but a step up all the same. How much that has to do with the lack of Sienkiewicz on artistic duties I'm not sure, but Leialoha’s work here is fine, if largely functional with only a handful of flourishes. Perhaps it's because it refers back onto an earlier episode of the New Mutants mythos (ie what happened to Karma) that it manages to resonate a bit more than recent instalments have, despite the turn of events being faintly ludicrous, even by superhero comic book standards. Still a bit too pedestrian for my tastes, and I'm now thinking I could potentially quit this project unless things pick up. I’ll give it until issue #40 and reassess. 6/10

1 comment:

Badger said...

Well I can't comment on Age of Ultron #9 as I've yet to read mine but judging from all the reviews online it's going the way I thought it would go near the end [down the good old crapper]why Marvel put so much stock in Bendis is beyond me,let's face it he's no Steve Gerber or Bill Mantlo [not fit to wipe their backsides me thinks]at best Bendis is a mediocre writer,as for the Winter Soldier it's a big shame that is ending,but what the hell knowing good old Marvel he will be back next year in time for Captain America 2 or headlining a new S.H.I.E.L.D. comic which we are bound to get once the t.v. series airs,and I read online over the weekend that we are getting another Avengers title,go Marvel anything with Avengers in it is bound to sell well [me thinks not]what's next "The Avengers Earths Mightiest Turds".
Happy reading people.