Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review: Uncanny X-Force #28 - The future's (not so) Bright.

Issue 28 of Uncanny X-Force has Rick Remender and incoming artist Julian Totino Tedesco takes us into the future as we begin to the see some of the consequences of this books storyline since the beginning.
After the forming of the brotherhood in the last issue and their release of the self-destructing Ultimaton to Cavern-X, X-Force find themselves transported to the future by a dying Gateway. greeted by Deathlok, the gang immediately have to go on the run from the authorities in this world, who just happen to be themselves. What results is a trip through a world that runs on X-Force's core mission statement; to take out threats before they become threats.
While I've been having trouble with this book since the Dark Angel Saga (that book is gonna be the measure of all other stories, I can sense it), Rick Remender has finally turned the story around to give an prophetic look into the overall consequences of what these characters do. These characters may be heroes, but what happens in this book is not heroic and Remender brings this to the forefront, showing what could happen and how such a mission statement as ending threats before they occur can be twisted and warped in simple tyranny.
The characters continue to be written so extremely well, with Psylocke getting yet more screen time. With this book, it's a case of "come to see Wolverine and Deadpool, but stay for Psylocke" as her character development continues be more complex. She really is going through the mill in this series. On top of that is Deadpool who, while I hate with a passion normally (I can't believe his books sell out in my local shop), continues to be written in such a heartfelt manner. Finally there's the return of Deathlok, who is vast becoming that unofficial member. I've not known too much about Deathlok prior to this series, but his continued back-up to the main cast, along with his (cyborg side's) opinions on preserving life makes for a refreshing difference in viewpoint.
This story is further enhanced by the new artist Julian Totino Tesdesco, who comes in and provides fantastic visuals. The tone he sets is very grim and moody and standard dystopian, which is exactly what this story needs. Everything in here, from the stunning facial expressions down to Nightcrawlers "Bamf" cloud is so beautiful and resonates in the story perfectly. This style is a worthy successor to Jerome Opena's work at the beginning of the series.
This issue provides plenty of hints into where the immediate future of the story leads and with the shock ending I find my enthusiasm for this book has returned. Uncanny X-Force may have had a bumpy few issues in my opinion, struggling to keep me engrossed, but it's back to it's best, just in time for the big finale I hope.

Friday, 27 July 2012

So, what's with all the indie books in my buy pile?

So, by the time of writing this I have come to realise that the ratio of my buy pile has taken a severe twist in the last 6 months.
A few years ago, I recall my buy pile consisting of nothing but Marvel titles. Then, along came a couple of unknown titles by this guy Mark Waid. Irredeemable was released followed a few months later by Incorruptible, and thus began my introduction with the more independent books.
Who is Jake Ellis? Well, he's the reason
for my move towards reading indie books.
Since that time, I've picked up an indie book here and there. I've got Greatest Hits by Vertigo in a box somewhere and I started collecting Hellboy in dribs and drabs and the Mass Effect comics whenever they appeared and then, finally, at the tail end of last year I picked up the unbelievably awesome Who is Jake Ellis? which, to be honest was the beginning of where I find myself now.
As of this moment, I have nearly a half dozen books in my buy pile which are not one of the big two. The Activity by Nathan Edmondson and the Massive by Brian Wood are my two ongoing titles while Jonathan Ross' America's Got Powers and new release Punk Rock Jesus are the limited series included. One top of this I have the first issue of Think Tank on pre-order for August 2012 and I've also picked up Jonathan Hickman's the Nightly News on Digital (for which I still don't believe I missed it first time round).
So, I gotta ask myself, what's with all these independent titles which have found their way into my buy pile? How did they manage to topple the big two (though mostly Marvel)?
In truth, there are two reasons for my absolute about-turn regarding the number of indie titles in my list. The first being that, while they are the big two and, as a result, hold the lion's share of the market, for me they both are now getting a bit stagnated and boring, to the point that I'm tending not to care (I wrote about that somewhere else).
However, at the same time, the fundamental truth is that these independent and creator-owned titles are actually really, really good. The books I have myself picking up month after month are not over-hyped by a big corporate marketing ploy like "The New 52" or "Marvel Now!", but are simply released for readers to pick up and judge on their own merits. No hype, no assumptions, just good stories. Not one of my indie books was not recommended to me by my local shops (little swines that they are, I'm poor enough with them peddling more on me). This guy is going to me "alright mate, try this book it's really awesome" and after some umming and arring I crumble (weak willed bastard I am) and pick them up. And you know what, he's right every single time. This books are infinitely more engrossing. I guess the reason for this is these creators, Edmondson, Waid, Wood et al are NOT creating for some corporate entity who will, in the end, have rights over whatever these souls create. These books are THEIRS! Their stories, their thoughts, their feelings and, at the end of the day, shouldn't they deserve the fruits of what their imaginations create.
Regardless of any other reason, my buy pile is full of independent books because they are good. Really good. If this quality is how every indie book is written, and the big two continue to feel as boring as they have been, I'd be more than happy to replace the lot with these books, and provide my coin direct to the creators.

Are DC and Marvel making me go "meh" to comics?

Of late, I've been picking up my comics and going through them as usual. Unlike previously though, I've started to feel very "meh" about the books that DC and Marvel are putting out.
In the course of a month I pick up 3 DC titles (Action Comics, Demon Knights and Earth 2) and 5 Marvel titles (Fantastic Four, FF, Daredevil, Dark Avengers and Uncanny X-Force), which are rather conservative amounts for a comic book fan (I know a guy who picks up nearly 150 in a month). These 8 titles are scattered out amongst the 4 weeks of a month and so I'm not forced to read them all in one go, but what I don't understand is why I'm so underwhelmed by them.
In truth, one of the most important reasons is the recent new initiatives that both Marvel and DC have implemented. Back in September last year, DC began the "New 52", a major reboot (it was a reboot not a relaunch) of every book in their stable, with many being cancelled and others being formed to create a monthly release of 52 books. This became a big moment for the publisher, with absolutely loads of advertising and build-up to the big event. Then this year, Marvel announced "Marvel Now!" a huge relaunch (this I'm inclined to believe may actually be a relaunch) which will see new number 1's, cancelled series and a new direction for the MU as a whole.
Now, the problem I have with these is the hype. While the "New 52" has been a success (and I pick up three books from their stable), the severe restructuring of the universe to fit towards certain "popular" characters (Yes, I'm talking Batman and Green Lantern) just makes the notion of picking up any other titles hard work. Also, these major changes are certainly difficult for me (who was raised on "old 52") to accept as they contradict a lot of things that I believe make sense in canon and dispose of interesting characters in favour of convenience. Examples to this include; Tim Drake never being Robin (Wrong), Wally West and Donna Troy being exiled to the ether (Fail) and Stephanie Brown being erased from existence in favour of returning Babs Gordon to action (What are you doing DC, bring Steph back). This is not to say that some changes weren't welcome, but the majority seem to have an influence in putting me off.
The same could be said with Marvel. With this whole "Marvel Now!" thing, books I enjoy are being cancelled (Fantastic Four and FF, you evil souls Marvel) and, while I'm sure they'll be back, I don't really want to have to start at issue 1 (In fact I once questions Steve Wacker at a convention about constantly resetting the numbers I hate it so much).
This hype that certain publishers are releasing the "next big thing" makes the read annoying simply because, more often than not, the "next big thing" isn't really that great. It's this kind of raised expectation which cannot be met that provides the biggest let down and, as a result, puts me in a cynical attitude. I want to read a great story in the next issue, but I know that won't happen. If they were more like the indie titles on offer (less hype but more quality) then maybe I'd be more optimistic.
Now, these aren't the only problems. Another is the fact that both Marvel and DC (Though more DC) seem to be just recycling old storylines or forming new ones that have tremdnous plot holes. This makes the stories (which I buy the comics for) very difficult and tiring to follow. Also, to add to my dislike, Marvel now feel, in their infinite wisdom, to release 15 issues of each titles every year instead of 12. This makes collecting very difficult for those on limited incomes (including me) as, for me, budgets need to alter to take 15 new issues into account every year.
When all is said and done, I'm a little tired of reading these books. I highly doubt either DC or Marvel will change some of the things they currently do so all I can hope is that this Marvel Now! thing cuts enough of my books that I can try and get back into them if there is a few less that I collect. Failing that, maybe I'll just have to make the hard choice and cut them from my buy pile myself.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Review: Daredevil #15 - Out of sight, out of (his) mind.

The consequences from the Omega Effect continue to pile on poor Matt Murdock during issue 15 of Mark Waid's Eisner Award winning Daredevil run as he continues his escape from Latveria.

Getting out (of Latveria) is hard to do.
Following on from the past issue (and to a lesser extent, most of this run), The Man without Fear has lost his senses (literally), thanks to a nanobot virus, and is now trying to find a way out without the powers he has come to rely on. What follows is Matt and his senses compensating for the loss of his powers and getting to grips with them before making his break for freedom in the only way Daredevil knows how; the hard way.

Mark Waid's run on here has been pretty standard fare for his writing in general; smart, witty, engrossing, entertaining. Sadly this issue just doesn't feel up to par with the rest of the series so far. I suspect that the reason for this is due to the fallout of the Omega Drive. This story has now been set up for over 7 issues, including three other titles and given there was little movement in regards to the Omega Effect crossover, it feels as though the story is starting to stagnate a little bit. This is not helped by the art. Chris Samsee has a good quality to his work, but after the beauty that was given to us by Paolo Rivera, it just seems adequate.

As much as I love this book since its relaunch, this issue feels like the serious weak link. That said, Waid has set up enough questions (How will the Avengers save him, What happens with DD's compensated senses) that I'll be back, especially giving that I have complete faith in Waid's work. It's just a sad bump in the road for an otherwise terrific series.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Review: Uncanny X-Force #27 - Return of the Brotherhood

The final execution continues for the mutant hit squad in Uncanny X-Force #27, as the reborn brotherhood of evil mutants maintain their attack.
Following on from the last issue, x-force remains under attack, with Fantomex and Psylocke still taking abuse from Mystique and Shadow King respectively. What follows is a beaten Fantomex releasing his most heroic turn to date as he rushes to rescue Betsy from her fate. While this is going on, the Brotherhood of evil mutants continues its return with an attack to capture the child Apocalypse, both tales culminating in a dire situation for Wolverine and his band of killers.
Once again, I find this whole story arc being compared to the Dark Angel saga, which is totally unfair. I'm sure this story will end up being great but sadly all I think is "this ain't no Dark Angel Saga". This, in fact, could be the reason why I found this issue a struggle, with the book not really connecting with me like it should. In terms of story, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it, it was especially interesting given the inside into how Fantomex's mind(s) work. That said, I just could not stay invested. Phil Noto's art was good here (still a vast improvement on Greg Tocchini's work in the Otherworld arc), although panels toward the end felt a little rushed and lacking a little of the quality from the rest of the book. That said, the Brotherhood reveal panel was gorgeous.
At the end of the day though, as much as I enjoy this book, I getting the feeling that I've burnt out on it. In terms of the story, it peaked too early with the Dark Angel Saga and I don't think it'll reach those new heights. Unless, the rest of the arc changes my mind, this may most likely be the last I get of Uncanny X-Force. But boy it's been quite a ride.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review: The Massive #2 - Kill or be killed

Brian Wood continues his post-apocalyptic survival of the Kapital, along with the search of it's sister ship in issue 2 of his new series The Massive.
Continuing the story from issue 1, the Kapital is under attack from pirates and has decided to hide itself in the fog to avoid detection and attack. What follows is an atmosphere cat and mouse game as the crew of the Massive wait out the pirates' attempts to board them and allow them to escape. Meanwhile, more explanation is made of what happened directly after "the crash" as well as Ninth Wave's reaction to it on a resupply run to Hong Kong.
The Massive continues to be an incredibly engrossing story as the focus moves away from the main hook and focuses on survival against predators. Brian Wood is showing a distinct talent for how the world would act after it's gone to hell in this issue, with the characters on board the Kapital adapting to the problems they currently face with the knowledge that they will be killed if caught. Although, much like last issue, the flashbacks are a bit of disruption to the story, they are less so now that I'm used to them. In fact, Wood has found a novel way of feeding the reader exposition while keeping the story going. There is obviously too much backstory to fit into a single issue and that would most likely be off putting to potential readers. Meanwhile, the artwork continues to be top-notch, with Kristian Donaldson, matching the atmosphere of the story perfectly with his pencils.
With the unanswered questions and plot points dropped at the end of this issue, I have more questions than answers. Suffice to say, The Massive is turning out to be an inspired buy and I intend to be back to see where it leads.

Friday, 13 July 2012

God bless comixology!!!!

The title says it all really. Over the last few days I have been having trouble with my ever increasing bundle of digital comics (to which I thank my Ipad, but that's another story).
On Wednesday, I performed my weekly ritual and collect the newly released comic books. Two of which, Uncanny X-Force #27 and Fantastic Four Annual #33 contained free codes to redeem and collect digital copies of these books. And so, upon reaching for my ipad and connecting to the Marvel website I did as the instructions stated and redeemed my free digital comics.
Or so I had thought, as upon reaching my Marvel app, I found that my collection consisted of everything minus these two new additions.What had gone wrong? Had I not followed the instructions? I had. Had the transaction not gone through? Well, it had. Pondering my options, I re-tried, only to find the redeem codes had been used.
And this is where my saviors come in. Upon reading through some information, I discovered that the marvel app is maintained by Comixology. Now comixology are, in essence, the creators of digital comics (as far as I'm aware), with their software being the template for that apps used by all the major comic book players. Therefore, I contacted them, not expecting much in the way of a reply.
Oh how wrong was I!!! Within a day (which given I'm a Brit isn't exactly a long wait) I had a reply stating the problem and how I could go about fixing it. I gave this a try and it failed and replied as such. But then, a day later, another reply informing me that they would manually add the comics to my account. Oh Happy Days!!!
Comixology had done what I didn't think was possible, they took the side of the little guy. Usually when I contact a helpline requesting help, I find myself not receiving a reply for weeks, if at all. And then, if I do (miraculously) get a reply, nothing is offered as reparation. No attempt to help, no refund (although for me in this case, that was something I had never expected given my comics were free). In short, most companies will dodge their customers until absolutely necessary.
However, I got the feeling not so with Comixology. I had a quick response to my problem, from the same person (which if you've ever contacted a call centre, you know will never happen), which was fixed with minimum fuss. This is how customers want to be treated.
So, thank you Comixology for this act of helpfulness and kindness. It makes me confident that buying my digital comics through you was the right decision.

Review: Demon Knights #11 - These monsters are Essential?

The quest to reach Avalon and resurrect Merlin continues with some slight stumbling block in this the 11th issue of Paul Cornell's Demon Knights.
Carrying on from the previous issue, the knights have been transformed into monsters that are considered to the their essential persona's (e.g. Horsewoman becomes a "horse-woman" etc), save for Madame Xanadu and after some time coping with their new circumstance and eventually realizing the cause and finding a cure, they continue onwards with their journey.
Sadly, unlike the previous two issues, this one is a serious drop in form on comparison. The main problem this issue has is that it just seems to be suffering from that age old problem of middle-issue syndrome, wherein the book just goes through the motions between the beginning and the end of a story. It's not that the book is inherently bad, it's simply that it doesn't really move anywhere, with the story maintaining a holding pattern. Issue 11 is essentially filler material, with no progression of the story and no growth of character. Even Cornell's signature humour appears to be missing. On the bright side Diogenes Neves' art continues to excel, making this book feel like it is all medievel.
Hopefully, this is just a bump in the road and after the great show from the last two issues, the somewhat shock twist ending of this issue (although, to be fair I should have seen it coming), I'm confident that overall the story will be terrific. However, as an individual issue, the book is not one of the best to come out in the series.

Review: Punk Rock Jesus #1 - The return of the messiah?

This week saw the Messiah returned to us in a not-so-conventional manner in the first issue of Sean Murphy's new mini series, Punk Rock Jesus.
Set in the near future (well apart from the very beginning), the basic plot is as the title kind of implies, the return of Jesus Christ. A big organisation called Ophis has perfected human cloning and, using an ancient relic, has acquired the DNA of the son of God. This story follows the build up and eventual (re)birth of this child through the eyes of several complex characters, not least of them Tommy MacKael, a former IRA terrorist who now runs security.
This book was a real fight for me to get. With my mind saying "no don't get it" and my local comic shop saying "it's good, buy it", obviously the comic shop won out. That said, like they have done with other books, they have put me onto a winner once again. Punk Rock Jesus, though hard to get invested into initially, is a fantastic title. The first thing that stands out in this issue is the art, please note that I don't exaggerate when I say the art is fantastic. With a black and white style similar to Walking Dead, this feels infinitely more detailed, and so much more gritty. The story itself also impresses, with Murphy writing a story which is, fundamentally, complex and engrossing. From the in story interludes focusing on the great "Science vs. Religion" debate, to the hints of Tommy's past which may or may not imply he has a greater impact in the story than is implied going forward, to the shock twist at the end (both of them).
Fair to say, Punk Rock Jesus is a little messed up, but in a good way. What I initially thought might be a parody has turned out to be a story that has left just enough plot threads to make me want to come back. We've seen the birth, the question is, what's next?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Review: Action Comics #11 - So, Clark Kent is dead?

It's a new beginning for the Man of Steel in Action Comics #11 as he deals with the ramifications of his decision from the previous issue.
Following on from issue 10, Superman has left his old alter ego behind and is now saving the world in a dual capacity as both Superman and, now, firefighter Johnny Clark. As he gets to grips with his new situation, Lois Lane is attacked by a mysterious flying man who wants her niece, Susie, who may in fact have a secret of her own.
I have heard time and again that Grant Morrison is a fantastic writer and that anything he writes is worth reading, but up to this point I have struggled with this series. However, I can finally say that I'm on board with this book after finding how much I enjoyed this issue. Superman final feels like a character you can relate just from the first few pages where he rebuilds homes for homeless citizens. However, unlike the somewhat arrogant character I saw in the first arc, this one shows much more vulnerability. THIS is how Superman should be written. From the moment of reflection when with Batman to heart to heart with his old boss while in his new identity (and Johnny Clark? I just know Morrison pulled that out of mythology limbo), this book shows the character in a very different light. This is also helped by Rags Morales' artwork which seems to have raised the bar from his usual high standards. If ever it's said that an artist has a maximum potential, Morales proves in this issue that that maximum can be raised.
All in all, the most shocking part is what I'm about to say, this is a REALLY good Superman book. From story to art, even the back up (which is even better than the main story, and that takes some doing), this issue excels and makes me think the DC New 52 might actually have been a good idea. If every issue is like this from here on in, my previous worry ( about why I buy this book will be laid to rest.

Review: Earth Two #3 - Rebuilding the society

Issue 3 of the James Robinson's new 52 interpretation of the Justice Society continues here as the story follows on from issue 2 with the birth of the Green Lantern.
Having survived last issue's explosive cliffhanger, Alan Scott finds himself face-to-face with "a green talking bonfire" who informs him that he is destined (as all these characters seem to be) to be a "champion". Meanwhile, as a new hero is born, the new 52 version of a familiar DC villain rises from the ground to give our new hero a battle in future issues.
While, not cover-to-cover action, Earth 2 is beginning to show, now more than ever, that Robinson is all about world-building. Green Lantern's origin is very different to what it used to be, but at the same time it has an air of familiarity to it which is both engrossing and enjoyable. At the moment, Robinson's method of focusing on the origin of each individual character while momentarily returning to focus on some of the other cast (there is a small bit of continuation regarding Flash and Hawkgirl from the last issue in here, which is also the only action scene in this book) seems to be doing the job. It allows for each character to get their day in the sun, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the larger plot. This is also helped by Nicola Scott's continuously incredible artwork. I find myself wondering why I've never seen any of her stuff before because it is just so vibrant. The one downside to this issue however is the reveal of the villain which, while no doubt necessary to prevent the book from just being an origin only affair, feels very shoehorned into the story and seriously impacts on the books momentum.
However, this lapse in the story is a minor problem compared to the issue as a whole. While this book is not overly filled with action and is more of a slow burn, it is certainly an investment and a step on the road to what might just be a really quality book. The Justice Society is being rebuilt in these pages and, from the looks of it, this team will be better than ever.
(P.S. One thing I forgot to mention is the the throwaway quote which references a classic JSA character. Talk about epic!!!)