19 May 2013

Mini Reviews 19/05/2013

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.

DREAM MERCHANT #1
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Konstantin Novosadov
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Nathan Edmondson is proving to be quite the versatile writer over at Image. His espionage/action series The Activity was nicely balanced against noirish thriller Dancer, and I only ever hear great things about his Jake Ellis comics. Now he’s trying his hand at psychological fantasy with Dream Merchant. It’s a flowing debut that provides some insight into the strange and troubled life that protagonist Winslow has led until now and doesn’t feel it’s in too much of a hurry while doing so. I mean that in a complementary way as this is a hefty read containing no less than 44 pages of full colour story from the promising hand of Novosadov and when the pace picks up halfway through the chase is kinetic and tense, only adding to the mystery as Winslow is pursued by unknown forces in his sleep and the real world. Perhaps there’s just a bit too much in the mystery department and not quite enough in the way of explanation over the whole course and something about Anne’s involvement doesn’t seem quite right to me, but these are early days indeed and Edmondson is definitely a writer who makes you want to find those answers and see where a story takes you. 7/10

Matt C: I only really know Nathan Edmondson’s work from the likes of The Activity, Dancer and Who Is Jake Ellis?, where he seems to have cornered the current market for all things spy and assassin related, so you could say the fantasy-themed Dream Merchant is quite a way outside his wheelhouse, or at least the wheelhouse I’m used to seeing him operate in. You wouldn’t realise it though, as he seems just as adept at crafting a story within a completely different genre, and it’s his character work that shines through. That’s the key ingredient, as to be honest we’ve all seen plenty of tales of people assumed to be whack jobs who suddenly turn out to have been right all along, in this case a guy locked up in a mental institution for being unable to desperate his dreams from reality. The art has a cartoonish quality that you’d imagine may have the potential to undermine the script but it in fact it’s the reverse; there’s an innate sadness in the majority of the panels that serves to amplify the melancholic nature of the tale. With a hefty 44 pages of story for $3.50 you definitely get your value for money here, but if you rightly value quality above quantity I can safely say you get your money’s worth of that too. 8/10

AGE OF ULTRON #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Brandon Peterson & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A surprising event series from Bendis in that the good far outweighs the bad, and this is one of the strongest chapters yet. Logan and Sue Storm's meddling in the past has created a new future, one where magic has triumphed over science, and apparently not for the better. You could argue that surely these characters know by now the consequences of altering the past, but Logan runs more on instinct and emotion than logic, and Susan, well, yeah, she should know better, but again, emotion can easily cloud your judgement. We've seen numerous alternate histories before, but this one is particularly well realised, and while there's a plotline that essentially disappeared from view a couple of issues ago, what we're currently dealing with is gripping enough that you sort of don't notice. Petersen's art is strong, but there are moments where I do long for the widescreen expertise of Bryan Hitch. Much, much better than it could have been and serves as justification of why event books can be a good thing. 8/10

THINK TANK #7
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: I kind of always took the 'Reading this book will makes you smarter' slogan on the cover with a pinch of salt, as though it was intended to be slightly tongue in cheek, but now I'm coming around to thinking it may be correct as I am indeed learning a lot from Think Tank. Hawkin's tale of holding onto your morality in an environment where it's far from a primary concern is layered with real-world, cutting edge science, the kind you'd dismiss as fantasy if it wasn't so clearly researched and backed up with facts. This issue, death stops becoming an almost abstract concept for David Loren when he's confronted with its cold reality head on. Smart, gripping, with an undercurrent of incisive wit, simply put, if you're not reading Think Tank you're missing out on one of the best books currently on the stands. 9/10

Stewart R: You can tell that this is a story that’s on the grow. Where most of the chapters before this point focussed predominantly on David Loren and his personal trials working as part of the secretive US government technology and weapons lab, this most recent instalment shows something of a shift onto the supporting cast, how they fit into this enthralling political puzzle and how the stakes are climbing higher. Colonel Harrison has been there from the start, firstly as a key antagonist and then gradually developed into something more, a strange compass within the military machine who Hawkins appears to have used to show us just where the soldier ends and the man begins. I’m really enjoying just how Hawkins is almost showing us a cross-section of the command structure, each of the characters utilised to highlight the differing layers and the various ethical standpoints that they all convey. General Clarkson is quickly becoming one of those truly loathsome foils who you can’t wait to receive their comeuppance, yet you can’t be sure that they actually will thanks to the unpredictability and nods to realism found within the writing. When you wrap that all up amongst one of the keenest eyes for educational detail when it comes to current and near-future tech that I believe I’ve seen applied in comics, then this is still on course to be one of the top series this side of the millennium. 9/10

FATALE #14
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweisser
Image $3.50

James R: Like clockwork, Brubaker and Phillips have delivered the goods with Fatale. Whereas I don't think it's as good as either Criminal or Incognito, it's been fascinating to watch it evolve. After the ‘70s/Manson Family influenced arc, Brubaker has shifted the narrative back through a series of one-shots as we see Josephine (or is it?) throughout history. This issue is particularly worth a look as it focuses on WW2, and if you picked up Brubaker's work on Captain America, you'll know he has a talent for evoking the European Theatre of that conflict. I've been impressed with how much of the Lovercraftian mythos featured has been kept under wraps by Brubaker, and this issue teases us even further as to the nature of the dark forces walking alongside humanity. The art from Sean Phillips is never anything less than great, and the book continues to be a class read. The next issue returns the focus to Nicolas and Josephine, and I hope that the narrative kicks up a gear further so this title can be talked about in the same breath as Criminal. 8/10

X-O MANOWAR #13
Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Cary Nord & Moose Baumann
Valiant Entertainment $3.99

Stewart R: I was critical of the incredibly one-note Aric of Dacia last time out and lo and behold in this chapter he all of a sudden starts to show signs of growth, or at least an aspect of the burly Visigoth we hadn’t seen before. Venditti has done well to remove Aric from his armour and leave him recuperating from injuries, albeit on a temporary basis, as it has allowed his foolhardy and strong-headed attitude to subside and a slightly contemplative part to his character to briefly come through. It’s almost a shame to make the comparison, but there’s definitely a feeling of Planet Of The Apes in this current ‘Planet Death’ arc, what with the human slaves, dominant captors in the shape of the Vine and Cornelius-a-like in the form of the Priest who sees Aric as the prophecy of Shanhara fulfilled and is now siding with the humans against his own people. Cary Nord’s art certainly improves this issue, perhaps because of the focus on the quieter moments. That said, even his action filled panels are step up on the underwhelming effort seen in #12 and I’m pleased to see this book starting to head in the right direction. 7/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #29
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ramon Perez & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: I've been quite surprised that a number of my PCG comrades haven't continued to share my love for this book. I can understand that the 'Murder Circus' arc was the weakest spell of this title, but apart from that, Jason Aaron hasn't put a foot wrong for me. I'm still entranced by the concept of Wolverine running the Jean Grey school; we comics fans are aware that it's hard to develop iconic characters, part of their appeal is their archetypal nature. Aaron does a fine job of really developing Wolverine in this title, and in this issue (which serves as an epilogue to the Savage Land arc) he really showcases the best qualities of this book. Logan finds himself having to travel into the future to open a mysterious box left by his brother, Dog. I'm a sucker for a time travel book at the best of times, and Aaron does a great job using the plot device to show two of the cast in reflective mood. We're also treated to a tease of possible plots to come, and I for one really hope Aaron is given the time to tell them all. Ramon Perez turns in his best work on the run to date, greatly assisted by the colours of Laura Martin. A smart and emotional read, and for me, the best X-book currently published by Marvel. 8/10

HELHEIM #3
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Joëlle Jones & Nick Filardi
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: After successfully achieving it in the Old West, Cullen Bunn is yet again transplanting the supernatural genre into another historical setting, namely the stomping grounds of the Vikings a millennia ago. The recently resurrected, bemuscled warrior Rikard discovers he's become an unwitting pawn in long-standing struggle between two witches, but he refuses to play ball. There's a nice nod to Bride Of Frankenstein as this chapter unfolds, and it's all held together by some terrific imagery from Joëlle Jones. Robust and violent, you can imagine the editors of Conan taking great interest in her work, so we can only hope that she sticks around. Noticeably different than The Sixth Gun but with the same imagination and intelligence being applied, Helheim is a keeper. 8/10

CABLE AND X-FORCE #8
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Momentum. That’s what this comic book has been about since day one and it’s thanks to this exciting creative team who appear to piece a fast moving, dramatic story together with near-cinematic precision. Hopeless’ tale has provided us with an ongoing threat, shrouded in the mystery of Cable’s visions and subsequent madcap plan, as well as a blossoming, banter-filled team dynamic that is fast becoming one of my favourites in Marvel’s armament. In this chapter we get to finally see just what the team’s recent actions have been trying to prevent which leads to a tense rescue mission in the hostile environment of space. Hopeless brings in Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D. - what near-earth space jaunt doesn’t require her appearance these days? - for the fun and to help solidify the danger presented by X-Force’s target, while this also allows her to butt heads with the similarly stonefaced Cable as they play a nice game of one-upmanship in trying to show the importance of the situation. All of this is wrapped up within Larroca’s sterling visuals, accompanied by the ever reliant colours of Frank D’Armata, and this artistic duo are easily equalling the stellar work they delivered previously on Invincible Iron Man. 8/10

BATWOMAN #20
Writer: J H Williams & W. Haden Blackman
Art: Trevor McCarthy & Guy Major
DC $2.99

James R: In my review of the last issue, I suggested that this book inhabited a strange space for me - it lacked real magic, but I was hanging on in there in the hope it would get back to the heights reached by Williams and Rucka when this iteration of Batwoman was first introduced. This issue is definitely a step in the right direction as Kate Kane finds out that *gasp* her sister is alive! A character in comics thought dead, but magically still breathing?! I've never seen such a conceit! Sarcasm aside, the return of Beth Kane has given the title a boost. Batwoman is told that her sister will be returned to her by the D.E.O. if she can deliver the Batman to them. I loved the high stakes that Williams and Blackman introduced here, though I think that we should have got to this point after issue #12! After the meandering Medusa arc, this finally feels like it's fulfilling its potential. It would be brilliant to see Williams illustrating this, but to be fair Trevor McCarthy turns in some solid work, and for the first time in ages, I'm actually looking forward to reading this comic next month. 7/10

NEW MUTANTS #29
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.65

Matt C: ‘Sunspot & The Gladiators’ would have been a cool name for a New Wave band, and if that’s what I came away from this issue thinking, perhaps it’s not doing the best job it can. There’s a definite sense of wheels being spun, as though Claremont felt he needed to reserve the major storylines for the X-Men, leaving the New Mutants to handle smaller scale stuff, even though they’ve proven themselves worthy by this point to handle meatier conflicts. Sienkiewicz still turns in some pretty stunning visuals when called upon, but there are points where it looks like his heart isn’t really in it, especially when you compare it what he was producing at the beginning of his tenure. By far the most interesting thing is Magento’s appearance, particularly when he essentially highlights the ‘lesser’ nature of what had occurred up until that point, which potentially means things are about to get serious. I do hope so. 6/10

1 comment:

Badger said...

Wow didn't anyone pick up the new Battlestar Galactica,I was hoping for a review of that one,well for me it was great to see the original characters back in action and nice to see Starbuck as a man again after that over the top with being serious revamp of a t.v. series had him become a woman.
As for Age of Ultron it's still not impressing the hell out of me,it's actually just coming across as yet another run of the mill Marvel event that as they say "Will change the Marvel Universe like never before" [got to love Marvels marketing department,they haven't changed their slogans since the 70's]that is until the next Marvel event.
As for Helheim,I read the first two issues but I just couldn't be bothered to pick up issue three,I can kind of see where this one is heading,I think I'll stick to my Robert E.Howard stuff for my sword and sorcery fix.