29 Apr 2013

Mini Reviews 28/04/2013

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.

JUPITER’S LEGACY #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Frank Quitely & Peter Doherty
Image $2.99


James R: Love him or hate him, you can't ignore Mark Millar. In many ways, he seems synonymous with the rise in popularity of comics within the mainstream media,and one has to admire how he has managed himself into a position of real clout within the industry. Over the last few years, I've been of the opinion that he has lost his edge somewhat - since getting his head turned by Hollywood, I've found that his creator-owned work has read like a series of illustrated elevator pitches of diminishing quality. With the release of Jupiter's Legacy this week, it looks like Millar has got some of his old mojo back with a tale that reminded me of Warren Ellis at his best. Starting with a great Golden Age origin that establishes how Sheldon Sampson became the Utopian (this world's Superman analogue) it then jumps forward to the present day, showing us how his children struggle to live in his shadow. The thing I enjoyed most here was the parallels between the world of the post-Wall Street crash of 1929 and our current financial meltdown. Back in the Twenties, the crisis inspires Sheldon (as it did for society in reality) whereas today, it seems to generate apathy in his son, Brandon. It goes without saying that it's a beautiful book - Frank Quitely never seems to turn in an inferior page, and this all adds up to a compulsive first issue. We now have to wait a while for issue #2, and there is an argument to be made for trade-waiting here, but this was a great debut and - dare I say it? – a return to form for Millar. 8/10

Matt C: It's good but not great. Perhaps expectations were too high, but there's a sneaking feeling that, deep down, this is a rather pedestrian opening, one that's perhaps a little too familiar (a Warren Ellis Stormwatch storyline was something that sprang immediately to mind for some reason). It's elevated substantially by the always welcome return of Frank Quitely. His detailed, distinctive illustrations add weight and importance to the proceedings, the action scenes are kinetic and thrilling to behold. So, while some of the dialogue is a little bit silly and implausible you can excuse that because it's an engaging idea, beautifully rendered. Not the greatest thing ever as the master of self-promotion Mark Millar would have you believe, but a promising opening all the same. 7/10

Stewart R: A good start from Millar here I have to say. He quickly establishes when and where the superheroes of Earth first came to be and then shows where the world sits as a result in the modern age. The comparison between the proactive initial generation and their image conscious, money-hungry and self-preserving children with 21st Century ideals is well realised and made all the more interesting by the apparent divide forming in the ranks of the elder heroes based upon a disagreement over democracy and their power to potentially intervene and act as they see fit in the best interest of the planet and its inhabitants. There’ll inevitably be a good, deep look at the argument for preventative action in the issues to come no doubt, but the more intriguing point to arise from this debut is that Millar doesn’t give us any idea of where this story may actually lead in the next issue, let alone in the series as a whole. There are the seeds of plot threads to be sure, dotted throughout the page count, but at this time only Millar himself - along with Quitely who puts in a strong effort with his linework - has any true idea of what might grow out of this and what part the various characters might play. I for one will quite happily be back to see what sprouts next. 7/10

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli, John Dell & Mark Morales
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: There's still a lot I like about this book, it's just the execution of the ideas and the lack of attention to detail that puts me off. A bunch of galactic empires have decided, due to all the cosmic events that occur around Earth or involve its inhabitants, that the planet is a potential threat and something needs to be done. Because, like, that notion has never been dealt with in the Marvel Universe before! It's a solid idea but the continuity it ignores just to make it appear fresh just irks. Oh, and when did Rocket Raccoon become so blatantly homicidal? McNiven and Pichelli skilfully sell the action and there's an argument that it's strong enough to carry things at enough speed so you don’t get time to dwell on the flaws. I could almost go along with that - almost, but not quite. Because we get the suggestion in the middle of it, from a character who would know better, that there's only one London-based superhero - Captain Britain - and he's a bit crap. I'm not one to get overly patriotic, and really I shouldn’t rise to this, but can the UK not fight its own battles, do we always require American assistance. Is it a case of: America, fuck yeah!? Nope, it's a case of: Bendis, fuck you! And that's enough to knock one point of the score. 5/10

Stewart R: Let us start with the good and then move on to the not-so-good shall we. Firstly I am enjoying some of the little character points that Bendis is managing to drop into his rather action heavy work with the Guardians. Rocket’s rather cut and dry method of dealing with enemies is entertaining and to a certain degree falls in line with how I think the roguish little critter should operate (though not entirely). Drax on the other hand is showing subtle signs that all is not well in his mind and his heart as the Destroyer may possibly be struggling to find what he needs to soldier on in this latest mission. I also quite enjoyed the meeting of the various galactic forces, chaired by Peter Quill’s father and the encounter oozed a calm and cloaked tension which will hopefully continue to play out as the game wears on. And now to the not-so-good. Bendis to this point hasn’t realistically given his true protagonist - Peter Quill a.k.a Starlord - nearly enough page time and has elected to go with the all guns blazing introduction which we’ve all seen so many times before. Two issues in and it may as well be Steve Rogers zipping around in a new suit, hollering orders and being the ‘just and good’ face of his team. A bland, blue-eyed, blond do-gooding hero was what I feared we might get here and so far it’s looking like the fears may be on course. Gamora is also pretty characterless so far, merely scything through bone, plate metal and several other substances, barely uttering a word. Then there’s the smaller anomalies such as Gladiator’s weird position in regards to Earth, a planet he sent his son to for schooling no less, and also worked with the Annihilators and Avengers to eventually protect. His stance seems too forced and it’s further evidence that Bendis will twist working, accepted character histories and perspectives to shape his occasionally cliched ideas. Through all of the writer's ups and downs, McNiven remains a joyful mark of high artistic consistency ensuring that the ‘shit and shynola’ writing looks glorious regardless. Equally good and bad then. Here’s the 5/10

EAST OF WEST #2
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50


Matt C: As we've come to expect from Hickman, this is another thoroughly ambitious exercise in world-building that impresses not just with its scope and scale, but with the robust intelligence that he injects into the proceedings. He’s keeping his cards close to his chest, teasing out information - we essentially know at this point the endtimes are approaching in an alternate reality, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are down to three since Death went rouge and was dealt with, but now he's back for vengeance. Hickman is placing his trust in his audience,  trust that they're willing to go along for the ride and let the story unfold the way he wants it to, and in turn we place our trust in him, trust that he knows we're smart enough that we don't need things dumbed down to make them more palatable. Dragotta's nails the grandeur of the tale with his illustrations but doesn't skip on the emotion in the faces and gestures of the characters. It's a treat for both the grey matter and the eyeballs. If you like what Hickman's doing on the Avengers books but haven't explored his creator-owned work yet, you need to get on board with this, pronto. 8/10

Stewart R: This appears to be forming into quite the political adventure as the various representatives of the regions that make up this version of the United States are introduced to us for the first time and, in keeping with how Hickman set things out in the first issue, there’s no clear leader or protagonist for us to get behind. Everyone seems to have their own agendas and skeletons in the closet and the great uncertainty over just what The Message is and what the Horsemen’s ultimate goal is still lingers tantalisingly out of reach for the meantime. Death is the closest to a principal character we have and his solemn yet impatient temperament makes any scene he turns up in a tense affair, particularly his meeting this time out with the delightfully tricky Andrew Archibald Chamberlain who seems quite capable of holding his own in the face of his potential end. Dragotta enhances Hickman’s pointed and terse dialogue with plenty of sideways glances and looks of disdain amongst the various leaders and it’s evident that Frank Martin may be delivering some of his very best colour work with a diverse and incredibly rich palette that just sucks you into the western bleakness and futuristic cityscapes. 9/10

NEW AVENGERS #5
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Frank D'Armata
Marvel Comics  $3.99


James R: Once again, it was a case of flipping a coin to decide which of Hickman's two Avengers books would be book of the week for me. The main Avengers title continues to be a grand exercise in pushing the limits of a team book, whereas this remains the darkest and philosophically most compelling book from either of the Big Two. This issue finishes off the great Galactus cliffhanger from last month, and then focuses on the imprisoned Black Swan as she tells the Illuminati of her origin, and of a possible cause of survival for mankind. As with last month, Hickman presents utilitarianism as the natural ethical position for super-powered people; when the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, you can't afford to think in terms of emotion or sentiment - survival comes down to rational numbers. How the Illuminati respond to this has made for fascinating reading, and I feel that this is a run with the makings of a classic. It also looks increasingly good - after my initial scepticism over the work of Steve Epting, his pencils have improved with every issue, and Frank D'Armata's colours give the book a definite tone and identity. I cannot wait to see how Hickman resolves this arc or, better still, what his long-term plans for the title are; this is the book that knows no limits. 9/10

AMALA’S BLADE #1
Writer: Steve Horton
Art: Michael Dialynas
Dark Horse $3.50


Stewart R: Just when I thought I was going to be without a strong, sword swinging female character from Dark Horse, following the conclusion of Tom Morello’s Orchid, out pops Amala’s Blade and a mighty impressive debut it is too. The map of the strange land of Naamaron on the inside front cover is a great introduction to twisted and divided realm of Purifiers (a steam-powered nation) and Modifiers (implanting technology into their bodies) that is climbing its way out of a long civil war. It shows just how much thought these creators have put in and helps to set the scene perfectly. Horton keeps the laughs to a minimum, but Dialynas’s art brings with it a vaguely cartoonish touch that helps instill the action with a great sense of fun as Amala firstly escapes a slightly botched mission and then contemplates a future where she’s no longer used to do another’s dirty work. There are some genuinely moving moments, however brief, as Amala and Ren’s closeness is revealed and the fact that Amala is accompanied through her adventures by a retinue of ghosts that only she can see adds another aspect of interest. A solid start indeed and the remaining three issues will be pull-list guarantees in the coming months. 8/10

BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN #6
Writer: Brian Azzerllo
Art: J.G. Jones, Alex Sinclair & Lee Loughridge
DC $3.99

Matt C: Well, actually... that wasn't bad at all. A miniseries that commenced with an audacious twist only to descend into directionless twaddle rather quickly afterwards reaches the finish line with an instalment that is surprisingly coherent and cleverly  echoes back to the events of the first issue, twisting the perceived wisdom of the Comedian's involvement in certain historical events yet again. It almost feels like Azzerrello had his points A and B but no idea how to get from one to another, and seeing now how it's bookended you can see hints of what might have been. Now it's all done and dusted, Before Watchmen certainly hasn't been the unmitigated disaster some hoped for (although there is a sense that DC started sweeping it under the rug once interest waned), but - Minutemen aside - it's largely going to be remembered as a missed opportunity with a smattering of creative flourishes that suggested better things. 6/10

FIVE WEAPONS #3
Writer: Jimmie Robinson
Art: Jimmie Robinson & Paul Little
Image $3.50


Stewart R: Strange schools and teenage angst seem to be all the rage presently in the comic book medium - see Avengers Arena, Wolverine & The X-Men, Uncanny X-Men - yet I would argue for all of Marvel’s competent and enjoyably glossy efforts, it’s Jimmie Robinson’s Five Weapons that carries the biggest amount of heart within it. The subterfuge still in effect, the boy masquerading as Tyler Shainline continues his attendance at the deadly school for assassins adding a handful of close friends along the way, whilst seemingly adding to a growing list of enemies by refusing to play the game in the manner that they expect. For all of the allies that he makes, Robinson keeps Tyler’s journey devilishly tough by ensuring that he’s being fought or attacked from two different angles at once. For every direct battle he finds himself in when trying to rise to the top of each class, he’s also having to thwart the subtler machinations of the school faculty and headmistress as well. This keeps the question of doubt on Tyler’s odds of success ever present and keeps me engrossed in the high school antics each time. The characters are all wonderfully over-the-top, yet show a real human element in the same breath, and the same could be said about this comic book as a whole. 8/10

UNCANNY X-MEN #5
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Frazer Irving
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: Earlier in the year, I sat at the Marvel panel at London Super Comic-Con and herd Frazer Irving speak of his love for the X-Men, and consequentially, I was keen to see how his passion would come across in the pages of Uncanny X-Men. Irving is a mercurial talent - there are some projects where he seems to be a natural fit, and his art brings another dimension to the work (Klarion The Witch Boy and the sadly unfinished Gutsville spring to mind) but then there are the projects where his unique style seems to hinder the narrative; his issues of the pre-New 52 Batman And Robin derailed what had been a great ongoing storyline from Grant Morrison. Unfortunately for me, this book falls into the latter category. Following on from some of Marvel's big guns, Irving's art has its moments but, once again, I was left thinking "What's just happened there?" on a few panels. This coincides with a pretty flabby script from Bendis, where a simple premise - Magik's powers are wonky like Cyclops' are post-Phoenix - is stretched out interminably. Twenty pages of fairly pointless plot mean this is the first time that I've really not enjoyed one of the main X-books for a while - I hope this is a blip rather than the norm. 4/10

NEW MUTANTS #26
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Wein
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: After the relatively low-key shenanigans of the last few issues things start to get meatier again with the introduction of a character that is still firmly on the mutant radar to this day: Professor X’s son, David Charles Haller. At this point Charlie’s completely oblivious to his bloodline continuing, adding a bit of frisson to the proceedings as we wait for the revelation to hit him. There are still a lot of subplots on the boil (it is Claremont, after all) but none of them seem unnecessary distractions at this stage, instead they add to the feeling there are a lot of things bubbling on the horizon for the teen mutant team. Another terrifically effective cover from Sienkiewicz, and you can’t help but think this is the original inspiration – the template, as it were – for Mike Del Mundo’s excellent covers on the current X-Men Legacy series. Firmly character driven and seemingly back on track again. 8/10

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