31 Mar 2013

Mini Reviews 31/03/2013

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.

EAST OF WEST #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

James R: There's an argument to be made that Jonathan Hickman is the form writer in comics at the moment, with his two Avengers titles reaching great heights on a monthly basis, and now this fascinating first issue published by Image. Here, the plot is reminiscent of his superb miniseries, Pax Romana, in which Hickman explored the idea of an alternative history, with the past being manipulated by a time-travelling army. In East Of West he focuses on both an alternative past and future - we learn that American history took a very different turn at the time of the Civil War, and thus the backdrop of the tale is a 2064 that is a dizzying fusion of sci-fi and Old West tropes. It's certainly not the first time that the American Frontier has been projected to the future, but Hickman infuses his script with a whole host of mysteries and world-building to make this an outstanding read. Earlier in the week, Matt C rightly flagged up that Hickman's indie work can be a little hit and miss, and I share the worry that he often starts like a bullet train, only to be derailed by issue #5. However, on the strength of this issue alone, it's a trademark big opening and certainly the most interesting book on my pull-list this week. 8/10

Matt C: Another Image series that comes bounding straight out of the gate with complete self-assuredness, treating the competition like it’s almost an irrelevancy. One of Jonathan Hickman’s most prominent skills is his ability to create new worlds - often warped versions of our own – and imbue them with an almost tangible “lived-in” quality. He repeats this trick with East Of West, starting things off with a futuristic Western vibe but retaining the sense that we’re barely scratching the surface of what he has planned. Nick Dragotta’s artwork is wonderfully expressive, bringing clarity to the dark, epic scope of the tale. A thoroughly convincing opener which gives early indications that this series could potentially rank up next to Hickman’s best. 9/10

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Steve McNiven, John Dell & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The #0.1 issue of Guardians Of The Galaxy was rather special, leading me to believe that the series proper would be equally impressive. On the evidence of this opening instalment, I way well have had my expectations raised a little too high. It’s not bad as bog-standard space adventures go, but it’s somewhat scuppered by a rather dumb central premise – apparently a council of galactic empires has decided that Earth is off-limits so that it has a chance to thrive, pretty much discarding every cosmically-infused Marvel comic book since the year dot where we’ve essentially been told repeatedly that Earth is the de facto centre of the universe! There’s still the appealing team dynamic of this mismatched band of reluctant heroes (now with added Tony Stark) along with some slick imagery from McNiven, but where Bendis had my attention before I cracked this issue open, now he’s in a position where it could be an uphill struggle for him to keep it. We’ll see. 6/10

TIME WARP #1
Writers: Various
Art: Various
DC/Vertigo $7.99

James R: Every now and then Vertigo drop a book like this on us; a collection of short stories from a plethora of comics talents. The theme for this collection - as you might guess - is a favourite SF staple, the time-travel plot. As a British comics fan, I'm immediately reminded of 2000AD's ‘Future Shocks‘, the done-in-one short stories that had twists in the tale. Here the contributors range from Lost scribe (and Prometheus wrecker!) Damon Lindelof, to industry heavyweights Gail Simone, Dan Abnett and Matt Kindt. As a result, the collection is an interesting mix of style and tone, but for me the outstanding tale came from the team of Tom King and Tom Fowler. King is the author of a superhero novel A Once Crowded Sky, and here tells a terrifically affecting and clever time-travel story in ‘It's Full Of Demons’. I don't want to ruin the plot or the twist, but suffice to say it almost justified the $7.99 price tag alone! Please note that I said 'almost', as that is the main drawback with this anthology - for every great story, there's a couple of clunkers, and I can't help but feel that this book would have been better if it was edited down and sold at a more reasonable $3.99 or $4.99. There are some gems here though, and if you're a connoisseur of the short story, it's certainly worth tracking down. 7/10

AGE OF ULTRON #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I said I’d give it three issues before deciding whether I’m signing up for the long haul, and now I’m here, the decision’s been made: I’m in. On one level it’s very much a by-the-numbers post-apocalyptic superhero tale, with plenty of elements that will seem instantly familiar to anyone who’s been reading funnybooks for a long enough period of time. I’m not going to criticize it for unoriginality though, otherwise I’d have to start targeting a heck of lot of other series I regularly pick up, so in essence it’s stands or falls on the delivery, and in this case the delivery’s pretty damn solid. There are some ‘Bendisisms’ in evidence (is that an official word yet?), and some of the logic is a bit ropey at points, but it’s proving to be so seductive because it looks and feels exactly like it's a big, earth-shattering kind of tale. It doesn’t tax the mind too heavily but it offers a lot of bang for your buck with characters you’re almost genetically keyed to root for. It could easily unravel at any point, but I’m seeing it through until the end now, regardless. 8/10

ALL CRIME COMICS #1
Writers: The Art Of Fiction
Art: Ed Laroche, Marc Sandroni, Tony Fleecs & Andrew Siegel
Art Of Fiction $3.95

Matt C: I’m a sucker for hardboiled crime tales and that Bruce Timm cover isn’t something you’re likely to miss on the racks, so this kind of had my name written all over it from the off. There’s plenty that’s familiar in this tale of double-crosses, dames to die for and the obligatory “one last job”, but it’s handled with enough flair to keep it engaging, with outbursts of vioulence reassuring us that the characters mean business. To be honest, I’d not heard of this publisher or any of the guys involved before this, but this was a solid enough entry into the genre of crime comics to ensure they’re now on my radar. 7/10

FINDING GOSSAMYR #4
Writer: David A. Rodriguez
Art: Sarah Ellerton
Th3rd World Studios $3.99

Matt C: Easily one of the most gorgeously rendered books currently on the market thanks to Sarah Ellerton’s intoxicating visualizations, it also possesses the smarts and heartfelt wit to ensure that it resonates beyond being merely a succession of (very) pretty pictures. The rather unique take on the fantasy genre (autistic boy unlocks a door to a mathematically-enhanced magical realm) makes it stand out, but writer Rodriguez wisely encompasses enough reliable tropes so that it feels fresh but reassuringly familiar at the same time. Now Finding Gossamyr has reached the conclusion of its opening arc I find myself eager to get to the next chapter as soon as possible and following on from The Stuff Of Legend, Th3rd World Studios look like they’ve struck ‘all ages’ gold once again. 8/10

UNCANNY AVENGERS #5
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Oliver Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin & Larry Molinar
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: I get the distinct feeling that amongst my colleagues at the PCG, I'm enjoying this book more than everyone else, but truth be told this was the first issue that I felt ambivalent about. Don't get me wrong, there's much here to praise: Remender stays good to his promise of continuing the plot threads from Uncanny X-Force with the return of the Akkaba City and Apocalypse's Horsemen, and if you have to bring in a sub for the brilliant John Cassaday then Oliver Coipel is a pretty stellar replacement! However, I feel that this title hasn't quite found its voice yet - in comparison, Uncanny X-Force was a dark, brooding title dealing with classic ethical themes, but Uncanny Avengers currently reads like an uneven blend of different tropes. The issue builds to a pretty random fight with the Grim Reaper, and I'm yet to read a single interesting story featuring Wonder Man. Whereas the last issue felt like a bold piece of narration from Remender, this was more like a standard superhero book, and from the creative talents involved, I expect an awful lot more. Still a long way from being dropped, but this was certainly a dip in form - I hope this is just a blip and it comes back all guns blazing next month, as this was unremarkable rather than uncanny. 6/10

NEW MUTANTS #22
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: One of those issues that doesn’t offer much in the way of a solid story but instead seems to exist to push a number of plot threads forward a few inches, perhaps giving (the not entirely correct) impression that not a lot happens. Surprisingly, given that’s she’s been my least favourite character up to this point, the pages where the focus is on Rahne Sinclair offer up the most engaging sequences, primarily because they take us into her fantasy, fairy tale world, allowing Sienkiewicz to play around with imagery he might not normally get away with in this book, as well as providing the inspiration for that rather magnificent cover. Take that out of the equation and it’s a forgettable issue; add it back in and it has its moments. 6/10

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