14 Jan 2013

Mini Reviews 13/01/2013

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.

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Carlos D’Anda & Gabe Eltaes
Dark Horse $2.99

Matt C: So it’s probably been about three decades since I bought a Star Wars comic on a regular basis but Brian Wood’s name in the credits has lured me back for this highly publicised debut issue from Dark Horse. There’s obviously a certain element of nostalgia at play here, as I pretty much grew up living and breathing Star Wars, but the chance to see new tales featuring those most beloved of sci-fi characters from a writer I very much admire wasn’t something I was going to pass over. Initially, the cultural prevalence of the franchise since 1977 factored against this issue, as the iconic turns from the likes of Hamill, Fisher and Ford are so imbedded in the collective consciousness it’s somewhat difficult to engage with the characters without their input. But Wood knows what he’s doing, and any resistance to discovering what happened between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back - something previously left to the imagination - dissipates due to the relentless pace of the narrative, the infectiously energetic art, and a script that honours the characters while at the same time pushing them forward (the eventual destination being the dark tone of Empire). Wood is well known for bringing intelligence to any fictional world he comes to, whether it’s an existing property or creator-owned. There’s no sense here that he’s dumbing down for this though, instead he’s placing his emphasis on having fun with a franchise which, although it has its detractors (and whining fanboys!), is about as close to a contemporary mythology as you can get. 8/10

James R: After a couple of barren years, it's turning into a great time to be a Star Wars fan. Not only do we have new movies to look forward to - *James  dances on spot* - but we've finally got a Star Wars comic worth reading. For a long time I've found Dark Horse's Star Wars line a great mystery. Despite the fact that I love Star Wars with the closest thing to a religious fervour I can manage, and of course, I adore comics, the two combined have left me strangely cold. This isn't a new phenomena by any means; back as a mini-geek, I eagerly grabbed Marvel's old Star Wars title only to find... well, it didn't feel like Star Wars! And who was this massive green rabbit?! Consequently, I think it's hard to capture the epic feel of the movies and the character interplay (of the Original Trilogy) in comics. I'm very pleased to say that Brian Wood has laughed at such difficulty, and along with Carlos D'Anda has produced the most satisfying Star Wars comic in a very long time. Set between the end of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Wood has got a big palette to work from, and he hits the ground running as he spends time on each of the characters we know and love, and does a great job of fleshing them out without rendering them unrecognisable. D'Anda also turns in some brilliant pages; the immensity of a Star Destroyer is portrayed as being so large that it can't be contained within the frame of a page, which is a subtle but effective touch. In any other week, this would have been my book of the week, but I have the feeling that it will take that prize very soon. If you've got any feeling for the Force, you need to pick up this book - it is useless to resist...   9/10

Stewart R: There is such a fine line to be walked upon when dealing with the original trilogy of George Lucas’ space opera epic, especially when expanding upon those unseen months and years between each cinematic chapter and I think that Brian Wood may have his feet firmly planted upon said line judging by this debut.  I really did feel for the most part that I could watch A New Hope, then pick this up and have the voices of Luke, Leia, Han and Wedge (as portrayed by the iconic actors from the series) delivering these lines.  Wood has the difficult job of maintaining the ‘feel’ of the cinematic Star Wars dialogue whilst trying to move away from Lucas’ somewhat clunky writing style and he offers up the required amalgam of lines fitting of the franchise alongside his own style of character development. Writing conversational pieces involving beeping droids and wookies is always going to be a test and Han’s repetition of Chewie’s questions is a necessary crutch that Wood successfully deals with and delivers that roguish attitude that Solo is renowned for at the same time.  Visually D’Anda produces the perfect debut, electing to steer clear of photo-realistic impressions of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford et al and go for simple yet recognisable character designs. He certainly draws a decent TIE Fighter and T-65 X-Wing along with other memorable technology from this sci-fi universe.  And when it comes to the universe, Wood appears to have a clear idea of where he wants to takes things and still connect various dots betwixt New Hope and Empire - I'm waiting with baited breath for mention of Ord Mantell at some point - and I suspect he's got some great plans up his sleeve. A great opening salvo in what I’m sure will be an engrossing comic book war!  8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Not quite up to the towering brilliance of the previous instalment, but this title still seems to exude an almost effortless magnificence that does a lot to set it apart from the rest of the Marvel NOW! output to date. Aaron is in complete control of his plot - there’s not a wasted piece of dialogue or narration - and so if we are to view this as a simply a chapter in a pretty goddamn impressive storyline then let’s not dwell on the script on this occasion (excellent though it may be) and instead focus on Ribic’s visuals, which are, in all honesty, really quite astonishing. There’s a regal quality that he brings to the page which amplifies the mythic tone of the proceedings, and if he carries on in this manner it going to be tough for any of his contemporaries to outclass him. Still the absolute winner of the Marvel NOW! relaunch for me. 9/10

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jorge Molina & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Oh, ho-ho-HO!  Just when I thought that this title was doing a fine job of entertaining me, Mr Spurrier wheels in a team of X-Men for the first time and all of a sudden it’s a very different ball game as this issue is D-A-M-N fine comic book entertainment! Spurrier has already proven on such titles as X-Club and Avatar’s Crossed: Wish You Were Here that he has the master touch when it comes to utilising the inner monologue of characters to drive and enhance the story and by giving us the inside track on David’s constant musings and ad-libbing it helps to put the reader on his side against a team we know to be regularly regarded as the ‘good guys’.  It’s refreshing to actually stand on the other side of an argument to Wolverine, Beast and Storm and almost want them to get a pasting as a result.  I really enjoyed the way that Spurrier and Molina unwrap the skirmish with David getting a boosted opportunity to tap into the numerous powers at his disposal.  Molina is knocking on the door of my Top 5 illustrators currently and his first X-Men Legacy issue (of three) is mind-strokingly gorgeous - aided lovingly by Rachelle Rosenberg’s bright and rich colouration - with the action kept swift and interesting thanks to his varied use of angles and composition.  In the space of four issues Spurrier has introduced me to a character I had next-to-no-clue about and made his adventures simply unmissable. 9/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & José Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $4.99

James R: What an ending. I've often used this here blog to say that comics can choke me up from time to time, but this... Sweet Christmas, I was proper, full-blown weeping at the end of this, Jeff Lemire's outstanding post-apocalyptic series! Why? Well, Lemire has the magical ability to make you care for his characters (a trait he shares with another comics great, Chris Ware.) From issue #1, Lemire has done a magnificent job of building a ruined world infused with hope, and he did so in emphatic fashion here. After the climatic events of the last issue, Lemire uses this concluding chapter to tell us what becomes of Gus, Bobby and the all the hybrids as they struggle to survive against the final survivors of humanity. I was amazed by the sheer scope and scale as Lemire shows the rest of Gus' life in a single issue without it feeling rushed or forced. As a supporter of this series from its debut, this was also a bittersweet read - I was amazed at the scope, and delighted that Lemire finished it off with aplomb, yet I was also sad that this will be the end of Gus' story. I'll miss it, but part of the joy of comics is that there's always a new book, and I cannot wait to see what Lemire has in store with his new series Trillium. Any creator who can make me weep as Lemire did during last three pages here has got my interest and support for life! This was a story alright - and it was a modern masterpiece. Heartfelt thanks to Jeff (and Jose!) 10/10

Matt C: Ostensibly this is an epilogue to a tale of two people trying to find some hope and meaning in a world that’s changed beyond all recognition, but in Lemire’s hands it becomes something far more moving. It’s a poignant, delicate and also brutal look into the years that followed the events of the last issue, and if you had a lot invested in these characters since the beginning then you may well find yourself shedding a tear or two, not matter how tough you think you are. There’s something enormously uplifting about this issue, almost as though Lemire is rewarding us for staying the course even when he was frequently subjecting us to some episodes that were, quite frankly, unbearably upsetting. And yes, very few comics these days have been able to dig their hooks in quite so deeply as Sweet Tooth has . Hats off to Lemire then for crafting what I’m prepared to call a masterpiece, and kudos too to José Villarrubia for bringing it all to life with some wonderfully pastoral colouring.  A heartwrenching, beautifully bittersweet finale to arguably the most emotionally absorbing comic book series in recent years. 10/10

Stewart R: It is true that some comic book series really can take you on a journey; with Sweet Tooth it feels like we’ve been taken through an entire lifetime of pure emotional turmoil and joy. Lemire’s final chapter is a whirlwind tour through the years that follow Gus and Jeppard’s eventful and heartbreaking journey to Alaska with their group of survivors and hybrid friends, showing us a future that now offers as much hope as it does uncertainty.  In a series where things looked dark and bleak for large stretches of time it’s fitting that Lemire shows that there would be no easy path for the survivors to take and that hard work still lay ahead of them, but he also manages to hit that uplifting beat that puts a smile on your face and that slight tear in your eye.  As conclusions go this can be held aloft as a shining example of just how you cap nearly three and a half years of hard work and consistent storytelling by tackling both writing and illustration with care, attention and an honest faithfulness to the wide-eyed wonder and brutality that was evident far back in that opening chapter.  It’s been an honest to goodness pleasure to witness such an accomplished tale unfold and this series is sure to be heralded as a classic of our time.  10/10

Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Kev Walker & Frank Martin
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: The method by which Dennis Hopeless appears to be telling his story of a drawn out competition of ‘Last Hero Standing’ is now clear to see and makes perfect sense; where last time we got some needed flashback information on Deathlocket this time he turns his attention to Cammi, the 13 year old human girl who spent the Annihilation Wave fighting side by side with none other than Drax the Destroyer. The way that Hopeless is paralleling these pieces of expositional history with the events transpiring within Murderworld each issue has been drawing me to each focussed upon character and the tension really is going to come from wanting no-one else to meet their premature end.  I will say that introducing a mystery party to proceedings makes some sense, but at a couple of times this issue I was a touch confused by what I was supposed to be seeing on the page. Kev Walker’s artwork has certainly not slipped in terms of quality, but there may just have been a slight misstep or two in a couple of panels where I was really trying hard to figure out what was actually taking place or whose eyes we were supposed to be watching through. That aside I’ve reached the end of this chapter and am really quite eager to get the next in my hands.  8/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: If you’re picking up Think Tank (and if not, why not?) you may be wondering if this is an entirely necessary purchase, or is it acting as merely a placeholder until the next issue hits the stands. Well, there’s a bit of amusing interaction between Manish Pavi and David Loren, some enlightening character profiles, and a whole bunch of info on DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), elaborating on who they are and what they get up to for those of us largely ignorant of the organization.  So yeah, you may question whether it’s that essential to pick this up, but if you haven’t done so already, here’s the answer for you: yes, it is totally essential for you to pick this book up! It expands and fleshes out the world of Think Tank in a way that will add to the overall reading experience once the series proper gets rolling again, so if you’re having a blast with Think Tank (and, again: if not, why not?) then you really need to get your hands on this fun and informative issue. 8/10

Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Koray Kuranel
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Only last week I’d finally managed to get in a solid back to back reading of issues #2 and #3 of this thriller and was looking forward to seeing just how Faerber intended to wrap things up in the finale. Unfortunately, rather than getting a fresh or innovative conclusion, Faerber resorts to cliched genre lines and dare I say it, offers up a big old telegraphed clue far too early in this last issue that leaves this a series where the journey was more enjoyable than the eventual destination. Had this been a longer series I’m guessing he may have had a little more room for maneuver and the chance to throw out some neat red herrings and false plot threads that could have kept this reader guessing to the very end. As it is, I just read through and all of my assumptions were pretty much realised. A rooftop standoff definitely helps to raise the tension and I like the way that Faerber conveys that clear sense of a hollow victory, but I can’t help feeling that there was a better ending just waiting to burst out of this promising story. 4/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Christian Ward
Image $5.99

James R: What an epic week! Sweet Tooth concludes with a giant-sized issue, Star Wars - the daddy of all blockbusters  - debuts with an epic start, and now there's this, the finale of Infinite Vacation. I was a big fan of this series last year - I'm a sucker for a parallel universe story at the best of times, and even though Spencer's plot didn't quite hang together perfectly, I loved both the ambition on show and Christian Ward's art. Longtime readers of this blog will know that I always have a special affection for comics which push the boundaries of the medium, and this final issue does just that. The book itself had been delayed, but it's easy to see why. For $5.99 you get 60 - that's 60! - ad-free pages (please take note Marvel with your $3.99 books!) including fold-out pages! Our protagonist Mark leads a breathless chase through a huge amount of parallel worlds, using situations in these worlds to his advantage - a world where he was a base-jumper, a world where he was a mountaineer – and as he runs, the pages turn and spin between the horizontal and vertical axis. Christian Ward excels himself here, rendering panels which are rammed with detail and an explosion of colour. If anything, the book wraps up a little too neatly; I would have liked there to be a few unresolved or ambiguous plot threads to think over (and isn't that how it should be in a quantum universe?) Minor quibbles aside, Infinite Vacation was a blast, and the final chapter well worth the wait. Chalk up another hit for the ever-growing reputation of Image comics - we certainly need more books like this.  8/10

Writer: Simon Furman
Art: Andrew Wildman, Stephen Baskerville & John-Paul Bove
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: This is ticking along quite nicely indeed as a modern extension to a series of old and Furman continues to pick out the most memorable storylines from Transformers lore that have open-ended threads and continues to mold them into something fresh and exciting.  With the standard ‘good vs evil’ premise that carried the Transformers franchise through the 80s and 90s  perhaps not standing up so well to scrutiny these days - and having been revisited in its purest form with the Optimus Prime and Megatron showdown of two issues ago - Furman is electing to go down the blurry route of the ‘enemy (or enemies) within’ and it certainly suits a comic that has dealt with civil war for so long, though it’s far from original.  We’re getting a glimpse of where he might lead things with a big fat nod to the Matrix Quest storyline and specific events that followed and every now and then he kills of one character to have a long-missed member of the extended cast turn back up again in a nice touch of fan service.  And speaking of which, it was a pleasant surprise to see some of the original Autobot Headmasters turn up again...but it’s a shame that Andrew Wildman appears to have done a switcheroo with a couple of characters heads (Brainstorm and Hardhead to be precise!). In times of old I’d have won a No Prize from Grimlock or Dreadwind in the Transformers UK editions for that observation! Oh heck, I’ll put one in the post to myself anyway!  7/10

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

Matt C: Nova Roma (that’s New Rome to me and you) resident Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla sees her molten lava powers manifest in time to battle the life-force sucking death cult leader Selene while a New Mutant- assisted coup takes place in the city itself. It’s still a bit all over the place but while the erratic nature does make the tale unintentionally comical in places the characterisations are strong enough in a number of cases to ensure there’s something to latch on to. Dannii Moonstar is still the standout but Roberto DaCosta is starting to become a lot more interesting (Rahne Sinclair’s whining continues to grate though). The art is pretty solid throughout but the whole package needs a little more oomph. 6/10

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