Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man #7

Ultimate Spider-Man #7 By Bendis / Samnee 

Perhaps one of the most intriguing elements of Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man relaunch has been Miles Morale's shady uncle Aaron, aka the Ultimate incarnation of classic Spider-Man foe The Prowler. Indirectly responsible for Miles gaining his powers, Aaron has been an enigmatic presence in the series up till now, but after the events of the previous two issues looks to be approaching the forefront of its plot. In many ways this could be described as a filler issue - in terms of storytelling, it stands on its own two feet and contains few new developments, instead choosing to develop Miles' family, and his fledgling superhero career. This is by no means a waste of time however.

In some ways the plot of this issue is quite fractured, and contains a number of different settings and characters. Despite this, at its centre is a strong core, concerning a young boy carving out a career for himself as as superhero. Morales has been an engaging character from the beginning, and that is no different here. It is great to see his family getting some panel time too, with his parents quickly beginning to settle into strongly defined roles in the series. The opening scene at the Morales family dinner table is brief, but wonderfully done. A superhero with two living parents is something of a novelty, and its great to see Bendis playing with the idea.

Oddly, the actual superhero elements of the issue seem a little tired. Miles getting to grips with his new powers is interesting enough, and portrayed well by Bendis, but in truth there is little of note here. His battle with Omega Red is along the same lines - Bendis' dialogue is smart, but the scene lacks punch and Omega Red is a bland and forgettable choice of adversary. Uncle Aaron's role in the story however, is a polar opposite. His character has been handled brilliantly by Bendis, and is no less captivating here. He promises to be a major player in the series, and his increased panel time is more than welcome. Peter Parker's increasing presence in the series is great to see too. The idea of Miles as a legacy character did not initially sit too comfortably with me, but Bendis is beginning to sell the idea to me, without it coming across as forced at all.

This issue is far from a misfire, but it does not quite reach the heights that the series has so far proved capable of. Morales getting to grips with his new powers is no longer as fresh as it could be, and although the charges of decompression are mostly unfounded, it would be nice to see a little more progression. That's not to say that this isn't a well written issue however - Bendis' dialogue is predictably great, and perhaps more impressive is his sterling work developing Miles' impressive supporting cast. Yet another reason that Morales is a worthy replacement for even a character as iconic as Peter Parker.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review: Daredevil #9

Daredevil #9 By Waid / Rivera

After a brief diversion in the form of a two part crossover with Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil returns to solo adventures with this weeks #9. Although the story's after effects are felt through the Black Cat's presence, this is a more simple tale, told in the Mighty Marvel Manner, as Matt Murdoch pursues the kidnappers of his deceased father's body through a subterranean lair belonging to a villain whose presence is made fairly obvious through the issues cover.

Although the issue is pretty straightforward, it is still a finely crafted piece of comic book storytelling. Mark Waid constantly keeps readers up to speed with the series' various subplots, sprinkling them throughout the story in a pleasingly unobtrusive fashion. Although it sounds like a less than challenging art, subplots are rarely used to their full potential in modern comic book, yet Waid manages it with aplomb. The introduction of the Black Cat as a love interest was a fairly predictable move, but that does not make it any less interesting, and the mysterious technological artefact in Matt's possession is still very much at the forefront of the series' ongoing plot.

The issue's main story, featuring Matt tracking his fathers coffin, feels old school in nature, but has enough macabre charm to make it more than a throwback to the Silver Age stories that are clearly of great influence to Waid and Rivera. Although simple, the story is never predictable, and Waid's pacing is spot on throughout. Daredevil's personal connection to the plot is a refreshing move too, and ensures that his characterisation remains at the forefront.

Mark Waid has transformed Daredevil from a grim, gritty, and frankly slightly boring character, into a swashbuckling throwback to an era of comics that seems long forgotten in the minds of many writers and editors. His character still has depth, but of a different kind to what has been seen in recent years, and the story is refreshing action packed and fast paced. Paolo Rivera's art too is a joy to behold, he has a brilliantly unique style, and every page is packed with fantastic touches. This would be a series worth reading for its storytelling alone, which makes Waid's increasingly engaging plots all the more welcome.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

Review: Batman And Robin #6

Batman And Robin #6 By Tomasi / Gleason

The cover of this weeks issue of Batman and Robin seems to suggest a confrontation between the father and son duo, the tagline reading 'DARK KNIGHT BATTLES DEMON SEED!'. In truth, the Dark Knight does not battle anyone in this issue - at least not in the present day - and those hoping for a confrontation between Bruce Wayne and his son may be left disappointed after the issue's shock revelations.

Shock is a far that is horribly overused by the PR departments of both Marvel and D.C, but this issue did carry genuine surprises, refreshingly free of the overblown and unwanted hype that often seems to accompany them. Damian rejecting his father and turning against Batman was an outcome that while relatively interesting, seemed fairly tired and predictable. Although his presence, once again at Batman's side is hardly a twist, the manner in which it has come about has gone some way towards reinforcing his character.

Once again, this issue is padded out with flashbacks, but unlike last month they feel a little cumbersome and unwelcome. Perhaps it because the core storyline is beginning to gather momentum - either way, while well told and engaging enough, their completion was welcome. What the flashbacks do achieve, is fleshing out the relationship between Morgan Ducard and Bruce Wayne. A character that began as an almost irritatingly enigmatic presence, is become steadily more welcome with each passing issue.

Patrick Gleason's artwork is still a good fit for the series, but appears to have a little of its punch between issues. Gleason's work is still polished to perfect, and at times brilliantly atmospheric, but appears slightly softer tinged than necessary on a dark, brooding Batman series.

As with the series as a whole, Batman And Robin #6 is an uneven read. At times excellent, yet equally frustrating, this issue at least carries a pay off that makes some of the more flat moments worth it.


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Review: Scarlet Spider #2

Scarlet Spider #2 By Yost / Stegman

There is nothing particularly wrong with the second issue of Chris Yost's ongoing Scarlet Spider series. Yost manages to develop Kaine's character, introduce an all new villain and still have room for a barnstorming fight scene. Unfortunately it still has not given this series that kickstart that it seems sorely in need of. Its first two issues have been solid, with few problems, but in the cut-throat world of modern comics that often isn't enough.

Aside from a brief piece of background on the first page, the majority of the issue is devoted to Kaine's rescue of a hospitalized girl, and his tussle with her intimidating assailant. It's good to see Yost attempting to create a rogues gallery for Kaine, and the 'Fire Serpent' is a cool visual, and made for a fun fight sequence. I did find him to be slightly lacking in depth however - fine for a one off villain, but I wouldn't be overly disappointed if he didn't show up again. What the character did allow was a glimpse at Kaine's ruthless nature. Yost has gone to great pains to highlight that this character is far more than just Peter Parker-lite, a fact emphasised by the brutality of this issues fight scene.

Fight scene aside however, there is not much to this issue at all. Yost does a good job of defining Kaine's character - a must for the sake of newer readers, but slightly unnecessary for anyone with knowledge of the character, and not done quite as cleverly or refreshingly as I was expecting. I was expecting the series to be up and running a little more after two issues, and while the action has been well portrayed there has been little in the way of shocks or suspense. That's not to say that the first two issues have been bad, just that there are few hooks. Kaine has no supporting cast to speak of, and the one villain featured so far has been functional rather than spectacular.

This was a fun enough read, and Ryan Stegman's art is still terrific. Chris Yost will have to do a little more over the coming months to keep me onboard though, despite a largely adequate beginning to the series.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 15: One Year On

It isn't difficult to see what Marvel were aiming for with the Spider-Man reboot. John Byrne's revamp of Superman's origin had by that point reached classic status, and with his undoubtable pedigree in the comic world he seemed an obvious choice to administer the same treatment to the Web-Slinger. Spider-Man's origin story was hardly in dire need of a retelling, but Brian Michael Bendis' success on Ultimate Spider-Man just a few years later proved that if done correctly there was certainly an appetite for one. The decision to relaunch both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man, while cancelling Spectacular and Sensational Spider-Man was on paper, a wise one too. For years, the Spider-Man titles had been under the shadow of the Clone Saga, an initially well received storyline that simply got out of hand. Although several of the stories immediately before the reboot were well received, a clean break from one of the most controversial storylines in comic book history could have been a refreshing move for the character. Cutting the number of core Spider-Man titles from four to two was also probably a good move - although there is arguably a demand for that number of Spider-Man series', it ultimately proved difficult for Marvel to make all four a 'must read' for fans of the character. Web of Spider-Man failed to find a niche throughout a 100+ issue run, and Sensational Spider-Man faced similar struggles after replacing the flailing series.

Of course there are always going to be those opposed to the relaunch of a much loved series, not to mention retconning his iconic origin story, but when looked at logically, the reboot was actually a pretty decent idea. So why was its first year such a dismal failure? Just to be clear, after recently having read the first year of the reboot, it isn't all bad. In fact, there are a handful of decent stories in there. The two part 'Perfect World' story arc was a fun elseworlds type story, and Venom's return was handled fairly well. For the most part however, the reboot deserves its infamy. The main problem was clearly the choice of Howard Mackie as writer for both the Amazing Spider-Man, and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Mackie had always been a solid enough, if unspectacular Spider-Man writer up till that point, and his run on Peter Parker: Spider-Man immediately before the reboot was moderately well received. For such a momentous task however, he was a poor choice. Carrying on with Peter Parker: Spider-Man would have made sense, but handing a writer who was clearly burnt out on the character the reins of the most important Spider-Man title was madness. Even with the benefit of hindsight it's difficult to see who would have been a better choice, but J.M Dematteis would have made a lot of sense to me. Mark Waid would have been a fun choice too, particularly given the success that he had writing the series more recently.

Chapter One ultimately proved to be a mistake too. I chose not to cover it, but suffice it to say that it was a huge critical failure. Although it did not, for the most part, directly impact the two core series', it's understandable that Chapter One left a bad taste in the mouth's of several readers. Crowbarring it into mainstream continuity probably did nothing to help with the reboot's popularity.

As mentioned before, Mackie had been writing Spider-Man for a number of years and had probably run out of ideas by the time he was asked to write the reboot. Why he accepted both series' is beyond me, but he probably should have been removed from them long before he eventually was. Mackie's dialogue and long term plotting have never been his strengths, but given that he was responsible for the creative direction of an entire franchise the latter became a massive problem during the reboot. Although none of his subplots were resolved in its first year, it quickly become apparent that they were going nowhere. Although the stalker subplot actually started off very well, it quickly began to drag, not to mention stretch credibility. His handling of Spider-Man's supporting cast was poor too, once again, much more of a problem when writing both Spider-Man titles. It simply seems that writing both series' was a step too far for Mackie.

The art, however, was a definite high point for the reboot. John Romita and John Byrne are both top artists, and were welcome presences on Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Both, particularly Byrne also benefited hugely from Scott Hanna's regular presence on inks. Hanna is one of the best inkers around, particularly for Spider-Man, and the effect that he had can be seen in Byrne's self inked work on Chapter One, clearly a notch below his work for the Amazing Spider-Man. To give Marvel credit, their choice of art teams was terrific, bar a couple of dodgy fill ins from Bart Sears.

As I said though, the first year of the reboot wasn't all bad, and there is certainly worse to come. What is apparent however, is a startling lack of truly excellent stories, with barely a handful of good ones. If you haven't already read them it probably isn't worth hunting down any of these issues, unless you're doing so for curiosity's sake. There is a chance that several of the stories would read better in isolation though, given that two of the reboot's biggest problems were poor long term storytelling, and irritatingly repetitive story beats. It isn't a coincidence that the strongest story from the reboot's first year was the one that took place largely within the confines of a parallel universe.

Not a wholly negative first year of the reboot era, but a pretty big disappointment on virtually every level.


Friday, 3 February 2012

Review: Animal Man #6

Animal Man #6 By Lemire / Leon / Foreman

This issue shouldn't really work. For all intents and purposes, it is a fill in story, one not even set in mainstream D.C continuity (well, not really) Far from continuing with the main plot that has run through this rebooted titles opening five issues, Jeff Lemire changes tack here, delving into Buddy Baker's past career as an actor. The bulk of the issue is devoted to an independent film that Baker starred in, dealing with a defunct, alcoholic superhero called Red Thunder, who is forced to face up to the loss of both his family and his career. We do get a look in at Baker's current occupation at the issue's close, but it is very short and serves only to remind readers of what this title is really about.

Given how much I have been enjoying Lemire and Foreman's work on this series, it would have been easy to get annoyed at the somewhat inconsequential tale that is presented here. In reality it is quite the opposite - Lemire and fill in artist John Paul Leon have crafted possibly the most entertaining issue of the relaunched series yet. In the space of just seventeen pages, Lemire does a great job of introducing and fleshing out the downtrodden, figure of Chas, aka Red Thunder. His plight and eventual downfall carries a certain inevitability about it, but that makes it no less touching to see it played out. There are obvious and welcome parallels between Chas and Buddy Baker too, that give the story a pleasing and natural link to the rest of the series.

Both Lemire and John Paul Leon deserve praise too, for the cinematic style that they give this issue. Both Lemire's script and Leon's superb layouts give the story a distinctive style not often seen in comics. Leon's art is understated, but terrific all the same, and he is the perfect fit for the story. Both Lemire and Leon add a number of nice touches throughout, that manage to add the issues distinctive feel without coming across as forced or heavy handed.

This issue was a surprise piece of genius, and Lemire deserves praise for crafting an excellent done in one plot while also checking in on the titles main narrative. Red Thunder's story may not be the most complex or original, but it was perfectly told by Lemire and Leon, and is easily one of the finest single issues that I have read for a long time.


Thursday, 2 February 2012

Review: Action Comics #6

Action Comics #6 By Morrison / Kubert 

With Superman's iconic origin story having been the subject of countless re-imaginings and retellings over the years, perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Grant Morrison with this story is making it interesting all over again. Morrison's telling of it is certainly done in an unconventional way - this two parter has somewhat awkwardly cut into a quietly impressive four issues of the rebooted title, tying in the present day Superman using time travel. Morrison's approach is understandable, beginning such a hotly anticipated run with such an iconic story would run the risk of being both dull and predictable Although the conclusion of this two parter could hardly be accused of either, it is far from a resounding success.

Oddly for a writer so famed for his high concept stories, it is with the plot that Morrison falters here. Several of the elements featured are highly engaging - the introduction of the Legion of Superheroes and and some of the Man of Steel's most spectacular foes making appearance to name but two. Unfortunately none of the ideas in this issue are given adequate breathing space and come across as overly confusing, despite being well rendered throughout. Andy Kubert's dynamic artwork and Morrison's solid script lend the issue its status as a real page turner, but it's difficult to shake a feeling of vague disappointment at the action that unfolds.

It is with the emotional beats and characterisation that Morrison excels, somewhat surprising given his reputation. Clark's relationship with his 'parents' is impressively realised despite limited panel time. It seems a shame that their interactions were not given higher priority, however overdone their relationship might be.

While on a technical level there is a lot to like about this issue, the result is frustratingly less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the story would have been more satisfying if given a longer running time, or if it had not interrupted an opening arc that had begun to build some impressive momentum. In any case, this issue is an entertaining read with a strong emotional core, helped along by a solid, if brief back up by Sholly Fisch and ChrisCross.