16 Jun 2013

Mini Reviews 16/06/2013

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: Scott Snyder
Art: Jim Lee & Alex Sinclair
DC $4.99

James R: In his excellent Cover To Cover piece on this book earlier in the week, my colleague Stewart wondered if anyone would remove the pull-out pages from this book. Dear reader, I must admit, I am one of those fools. When I get my weekly stash home, I'll give each issue a cursory flip before reading them properly. On coming across the fold out page here, I pulled gently on the page, not expecting it to be held in place with what I believe publishers call 'snot', and... damn, guess I don't know my own strength! Personal catastrophe aside, I felt this was a fine comic without being too stellar. In a week where many of us are focused on Superman (and rightfully so in my opinion - I'm still on a high from Man Of Steel!) I've been reminded of just how great the character can be. Superman Unchained plays to a lot of Scott Snyder's strengths - he sets up a a character who might be a match for Superman while doing the perfunctory introductions to the people in Clark Kent's world. I do have to add my voice to those who have raised a concern with the price of the book. I am a massive fan of creators that stretch the medium (Chris Ware's recent magnum opus Building Stories shows just how much creators can alter the form of comics to make something unique and remarkable), but the fold out here felt superfluous. I think it would have worked better as two double-page spreads. All told, this immediately establishes itself as the best Super-book DC are publishing, but sadly this speaks volumes about it's competition - and I hope Snyder has a few more tricks up his sleeve for the title. A solid start rather than a super one. 7/10

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jeff Stokely & André May
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: This starts out like some alternative universe, American Civil War story with a platoon of troops all heading into a hellish dustbowl from which most of them will never return. I love the way that Spurrier sets things up with the regular soldiers all shunning talk with the ‘Holeheads’ - a group of suicide runners and distractionary individuals made up of the terminally ill, deadbeats and death row inmates with nothing to lose. It instantly allows a host of sad stories to come straight to the fore and makes you wonder who will make it through for those sombre tales to continue. Then the battle begins and the very different things about the battlefield, and the planet on which it takes place come quickly into place. Stokely opens up the dusty, terracotta landscape and unleashes some terrifically rendered, behemoth-sized tortoise, troop carriers and a host of wind up, pressurised and psychic weaponry that screams out for Holehead and soldier blood alike. And then, just as we’re getting into the heat of the fight Spurrier pulls out a great shift in scope, turns this into a galaxy-spanning mystery thriller by showing us a very different locale from where many of the strings are being pulled. It’s a clever balancing act and it’s going to make this series a very interesting read indeed. By the time the titular character arrives I was already hooked so Stokely’s explosive entrance for the furry, firearm-wielding hominid is just deliciously dark icing on what is looking to be another very tasty comic book cake for Spurrier and BOOM! 9/10

Writers: Gerard Way & Shaun Simon
Art: Becky Cloonan & Dan Jackson
Dark Horse $3.99

Matt C: Bringing with him the sizeable, extremely passionate My Chemical Romance fanbase and therefore guaranteed sales, you could assume that Gerard Way’s foray into the world of comics is nothing more than an ego trip, the childhood fantasy dream job that he can now make a reality due to his clout and loyal acolytes. The critical acclaim awarded to The Umbrella Academy showed this wasn’t the case, and that Way’s storytelling skills went beyond penning song lyrics, and now True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys proves with consummate ease that his previous series wasn’t a one-off fluke.  Issue #1 of this mini is a magnetic, imaginative treat, an idiosyncratic, compelling journey into a far off future, one that has elements that can be recognised from elsewhere but takes those elements and fashions them into something that seems instantly fresh and new. Way and co-writer Simon’s create a world that provides that essential  ‘lived in’ feel and it’s brought to vivid life by Cloonan who crafts some proper post-apocalyptic magic on the page, which is then lent an extra layer of fizz by Jackson’s colours. No question about it, this is the start of something special. 8/10

Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Joe Madureira & Peter Steigerwald
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The last time these two creators, Wells and Madureira, collaborated on a book it was the opening debut salvo that was Avenging Spider-Man and I was taken by Wells writing ability, but disappointed by Joe Mad’s use of large panels to leave a four dollar book feeling too brisk and bare as a result. Now they’ve reunited and I’m glad to say that we appear to be witnessing an artist getting back to his very best work and Wells’ script is perfect for the man who famously brought us Battle Chasers some fifteen years ago, containing as it does ninjas and mystical elements. His line work is crisp and clear and his panel composition is terrifically varied with shots of the Kingpin surveying a Manhattan skyline and Wolverine sneaking up on the bulky lord of crime two of the highlights. Wells once again provides some superb dialogue - this is pre-Superior Spider-Man so yes, IT’S PETER PARKER FOLKS!! - and a Wolverine story involving Elektra, the Kingpin and some new dark forces is always welcome from the mind of this often overlooked writer. With the plot elements now mostly revealed it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for us next month and if this consistency remains. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo & FCO Plascencia
DC $3.99

James R: A number of my friends in the PCG lost faith with Batman during the 'Death of the Family' storyline. Whereas I could sympathise with them - given Snyder's track record on the Bat-titles, that event did feel a little underwhelming - I kept faith as I feel Snyder's scripts and Capullo's art give us the consistently best Gotham tales we've had for years. The new plot though represents a massive challenge, as the creative team take on the task of re-telling Batman's first year in the cowl. My immediate thought was "Oh no..." as I love Frank Miller's Year One, (which this is ostensibly replacing in continuity.) I then thought that I should give the book a shot as Year One itself was a re-telling of the Batman tale, post-Crisis On Infinite Earths. However, I think this is a tough ask, as the general shadow of Year One still looms large in various media - both in Christopher Nolan's recent Dark Knight movies, and from Warner's animation department, who made a version of Year One in 2011. The story itself is as classy as you'd expect from Snyder - Frank Millar made his origin tale a reflection on crime in 80s New York, and Snyder does the same for this decade as the Red Hood Gang are revealed to be a gang of faceless sleeper agents. I loved it as a comic, but felt that the tale would work just as well without the 'Year Zero' millstone around it's neck. We're hearing more and more that DC editorial is frankly crackers at the moment, and I wonder how much of this is their idea. Taken without the weight of history, this is another fine chapter in Snyder and Capullo's run, I just wish it was just another chapter rather that a needless event. 8/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli, John Dell & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I love Groot as a character so there’s a big old smile-inducing moment in this issue, captured on a single page by either McNiven or Pichelli (I’m surprised by how interchangeable and seamless their styles are and I can't tell them apart easily here!), telegraphed almost too blatantly by Bendis, that still kicks the corners of the mouth into an upward climb. But you know what, in terms of the Guardians, that’s about as far as it goes with them as a team and really memorable moments for this chapter. What’s been more intriguing has been the amount of tension, character and atmosphere that has been built when this creative team have been focussing on the alliance of the many empires scattered across the galaxy. Quill’s father is superb as the manipulative man who may just be playing a game that could get out of his hands all too quickly with the likes of the Asgardian All-Mother, Kree Supreme Intelligence and Gladiator of the Shi’ar starting to doubt his intentions, and his son on a path to usurp his plans. The big problem is that his son, and the rest of his team including Tony Stark, have been pretty nondescript thus far. If something needed hitting or shooting, or if a heroic dive into action has been required, they’ve been there (as have the talented artists to draw and colour it), but Bendis has still yet to give them an ounce of proper character development and considering this was sold on the basis of getting new readers involved it’s quite surprising. To be honest, I’m yet to see anything close to 2% of the amount of heart that Abnett and Lanning wove into their GOTG book and I’m wondering how much longer I can keep investing and caring about a book that isn’t paying enough attention to the protagonists. 5/10

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

Matt C: Quite possibly this whole 'God Butcher' arc has gone on too long but Aaron gets away with the occasional stretch that could have been cut or edited down by making the story such a vast, potent thrill-ride filled with glorious pomposity and destruction in equal measure.  Aaron has got the tone just right, and that’s no easy feat, as a wrong move could easily shift this into laughable territory. It probably helps that Ribic sells the scale of the carnage so brilliantly, the three Thors from the different time periods taking on Gorr in an epic, exhilarating manner, resulting in some magnificently powerful imagery. I imagine Aaron will need to wrap this all up soon but for now it’s still an undeniably entertaining dose of myth-making. 8/10

Writer: Grace Randolph
Art: Russell Dauterman & Gabriel Cassata
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: A few months back, following a slightly confusing issue and a possible(?) small delay between installments which enhanced that problem (apologies if that wasn’t the case Ms Randolph!) I had contemplated dropping this book. Thankfully I made the decision to stick with it for one more month and now, a little time after that doubt there’s little chance of this being dropped from my pull list. Randolph has spent her time wisely building up the stories and interactions of certain characters and leaving others somewhat surprisingly - yet successfully - to the side up to and including this point. The once unshakable Meta Legion are under attack from all sides and the relationships between the connected partners and families are becoming continuously strained due to subterfuge, sabotage and the sheer nature and trials of everyday life when superpowers and heroics are concerned. This issue is particularly gripping as everything starts to fall apart and Randolph has done a fine job of ensuring that we cannot be certain that any of the familiar, (generally) friendly faces may not meet a lethal end at any moment. The subplot involving the Legion’s children has now evolved into one of the most interesting aspects and it’s playing really well against the jaded experience of some of the elder members of the cast and I’m sure there’s more to come from that angle. With such unpredictable drama comes the need for strong expression work and Dauterman delivers in spades, capturing every grimaced, chewed lip, wide-eyed second perfectly. 8/10

Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III
Th3rd World Studios $3.99

Matt C: Perhaps the highest compliment I can award Stuff Of Legend is by saying that I look forward to the day when my two sons are old enough to read it and I can share it with both of them. This final chapter of the fourth volume of the series is imaginatively utilizes familiar fairytale tropes to craft something that still manages to surprise, producing a succession of emotional beats that really hit home. Wilson depicts the proceedings in a classical, storybook style, but adds a layer of realism that serves to make the stakes seem that much more high. Volume 5, A Call To Arms, is due towards the end of the year and should further cement the status of Stuff Of Legend as a modern, all-ages classic. 8/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Top Cow Productions $2.99

Stewart R: I will admit that the first page of this second issue did confuse me initially and had me wondering if my Free Comic Book Day copy of the debut had perhaps had a page missing at the back. We’re told that a character has been disposed of quite early on, but having checked the debut (thanks to the ease of the free download on Comixology - I must file all my paper comics this month!!) it seems that Hawkins has made this move purposefully to almost give us an example of Aphrodite’s own blackouts where she cannot be certain what has occurred in the 20 minutes of ‘static’ that she experiences when being controlled by Burch. It also allows us to get straight into the thick of the action with a whirlwind recovery mission which the hugely talented Sejic just ravishes the page with, not to mention our eyes. This is be-yoot-iful comic book storytelling and no mistake. The speedy jump into things then allows Hawkins to expand the premise of the plot and the predicament that mankind finds itself in with the two distinct groups who are at each others’ throats. The cyborg council are really interesting; their disagreement on a course of action adding further layers of grey to the politics at play, while Marcus’ people appear set to have the greatest of royal tragedies. Add in another great cliffhanger and I sit waiting for next month’s issue to hurry up and arrive. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art by: Nick Bradshaw & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: 'Fun' isn't my favourite adjective to use in a review - it's in the same sphere as 'Cuddly' or 'Nice' for me - it's an inoffensive term that doesn't really convey an awful lot, but I have to say that if asked, 'What's the best thing about Wolverine & The X-Men?' Well...it's fun! I find this all the more remarkable given the brooding darkness Jason Aaron displayed in Scalped! However, in the same way that Saint Augustine said the greatest sinners make the greatest saints, then perhaps it's the bleakest writers that can have the most fun. This issue marks the first chapter proper of the 'Hellfire Saga' with Kade Kilgore setting up a rival to the Jean Grey School. I make no secret of the fact that as a teacher, I am a sucker for any media that highlights my chosen profession, and I loved seeing the low-empathy but highly effective classroom management skills of the Hellfire faculty. The book also benefits from the return of Nick Bradshaw, who seems to be the best natural fit for this title, and thirty-one (wow! already?!) issues in I see no end to my affection for this book. Given Bendis' seemingly unfocused efforts over two different X-Men titles, this, along with Brian Wood's X-Men, is the book that best represents the spirit of the X-books, and long may it continue. 8/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Steve Leialoha & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: The book seems to be on an upward trajectory again, albeit on a relatively small gradient. It’s pretty formulaic, and it’s the kind of thing Claremont could have done in his sleep around this time, but there are some decent character moments that help keep things interesting in amongst the action. Leialoha’s art doesn’t match up to Sienkiewicz at his best, but is probably better overall than the previous artist’s final few instalments on the book, and I particularly like his rendition of Warlock here. We’re still no closer to finding out what turned Karma from a slender Vietnamese girl into a murderous blimp, so presumably that’s still to come. 6/10

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