30 Dec 2012

Mini Reviews 30/12/2012

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.

Due to the limited number of releases last Wednesday, this week we have a bonus instalment of Matt C's New Mutants Project.

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: Brian Wood is a firm favourite amongst us reviewers of the PCG, so there was no doubt that a new book from him - and a creator-owned title at that - was certainly going to be on our pull-lists for the week. It's interesting that this title follows on from his success with The Massive as to me it appears that these are Wood's two different meditations on a dystopic future. In The Massive, the world has been struck by ecological disaster, whereas here in Mara, the world has been stricken by accelerated static. Given a few minor tweaks, and Mara's world is just a hyper-version of our own. If you're an SF fan, you'll recognise some of the tropes on show here, most notably from Norman Jewison's 1975 classic Rollerball, in which a deadly sport has become the means to pacify and divert the masses. The sport here isn't so deadly - it's virtually volleyball - but you certainly shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that Wood's tale is a retread. In this opening issue, he highlights that this is a world (to paraphrase an expression used to describe the work of William Gibson) '5 minutes in the future.' War, technology, profit - these are all themes that the reader will easily identify and respond to. Then there's Mara herself - a sporting superstar, but one who may be more than she appears. It's a neat first chapter, and I'm really interested to see where Brian Wood takes this. The only thing I wasn't hugely impressed with was the art. When it comes to portraying a world of the future - even the very near future -  I think it helps to have a strong aesthetic, and Doyle's backgrounds lacked atmosphere. However, in a greatly denuded week for new releases, Mara was a very welcome new addition to my stack. 8/10

Matt C: Brian Wood clearly enjoys looking towards possible futures for planet Earth. Whether it’s a second American Civil War in DMZ or the global environmental catastrophe of The Massive, he’s a writer that not only sees the narrative appeal of an undesirable ‘world of tomorrow’, but has the chops to make it both plausible and compelling. In Mara he imagines a world beset by endless conflicts and crumbling economies that sees governments pouring resources into sports and physical prowess to serve as a distraction for the masses, creating superstars on an unprecedented scale. Mara Prince is one such superstar, her fame based on her exceptional volleyball skills that have made her one of the most famous people on the planet. To be honest, the choice of sport kind of lost me a bit here, as it doesn’t seem like one that would cause such worldwide devotion, but Wood handles it pretty well and the characterisation is generally solid. Same can be said for Doyle’s art, as it’s the expressions and figurework that work better than the action. The incidental detail is what gives me hope, as there’s a sense that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what this future holds. I’ve learnt before not to dismiss a debut issue from Wood too swiftly, so even though this didn’t especially grab me, I’ll be back again for the next round. 7/10

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carlos Magno & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $1.00

Matt C: So here we go again, another series that pits superpowered being against each other in a fight to the death, and you could assume that success of The Hunger Games and, to a lesser extent, Avengers Vs. X-Men, over the last 12 months has had a profound impact on the comic book zeitgeist by pulling it in this direction. You’d be right to a point (look at Avengers Arena by way of an example) but you trace the lineage of this kind of thing all the way back to Contest Of Champions and Secret Wars back in the early ‘80s, and really, the idea of seeing who would come out top in a one-on-one fight kind of permeates constantly in the background of mainstream superhero comic fandom anyway. Looking at it that way, Deathmatch is quite a timely addition to the genre, one that could easily be dismissed as appealing to the lowest common denominator, but actually isn’t half bad if you give it a whirl. Obviously we’re dealing with brand new characters, but the majority are familiar variations on established icons (hey, there’s even a Rorschach analogue in there!) and it seems the narrative won’t be as clear cut as figuring out who can punch who out the quickest. Jenkins is a solid, often superb writer who blatantly knows his stuff, and Magno offers illustrations packed with texture and detail, preventing the concept from feeling stale.  No awards for originality are going to be handed out here, but this attractively-priced debut issue indicates that it has an opportunity to be a gripping page-turner if given the chance. 7/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Bob McLeod & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: An improvement over the last issue, but a couple of things irritate. Firstly, a huge chunk of time is missing from the end of the previous chapter to the beginning of this one, and while that’s not necessarily a default problem, it’s not exactly made clear what’s happened in the between, which is especially annoying as it concerns the supposed death of one of the team. Secondly, there’s a kidnapping that takes place midway through that’s badly choreographed in terms of how the panels flow, and while it’s generally clear what’s going on, it’s confusing all the same. Aside from that, it’s an entertaining instalment: some political intrigue as we reunite with Sunspot’s family, a villain who looks like he was lost out to the role of B.A. Baracus to Mr. T, and more of Charlie X anguishing over the questionable decisions he makes regarding the kids. 7/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Bob McLeod & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: A trip along the Amazon proves to be predictably eventful for the teenage mutants as shady forces conspire against them and they become embroiled with a mysterious band of Amazonians. It turns out to be the best issue yet as the team dynamic has settled in comfortably and it’s starting to feel like they’re engaging in proper adventures that don’t come across as X-Men plot castoffs. The lack of Professor X’s meddling here (he only appears in a few panels) perhaps contributes to the title approaching its own sense of identity. Onwards and upwards, hopefully. 8/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Sal Buscema, Tom Mandrake & Glynis Wein
Mavrel $0.60

Matt C: The New Mutants uncover a hidden city of Romans in the Andes as their adventure along the Amazon continues. These hidden city stories that pop up in comics (and sci-fi in general) with some regularity always seem to have a culture that has been implausibly unaffected by any technological or societal advances, and so here we have a population of Romans that are living in almost exactly the same fashion as their ancestors were 2000 years ago. It’s inherently ridiculous and requires an enormous amount of suspension of disbelief, even for the genre, but if you can get past that you're likely to have some fun with the idea. As with the previous issue, the team dynamic is cementing itself and its rather entertaining watching them engage in battles in an Ancient Rome facsimile. Tom Mandrake joins the art team as inker, and injects a more classical, sturdy approach to the visuals. Bonkers but likeable. 7/10

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