23 Jun 2013

Mini Reviews 23/06/2013

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.

Writers: Mike Raicht, Zach Howard & Austin Harrison
Art: Zach Howard & Nelson Daniel
IDW $3.99

Matt C: How come we’re not bored with post-apocalyptic visions of the future yet? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me they play into our fears of having the rug pulled from under us on a global scale, watching the lives we know crumble to dust, but they also provide a sense that humanity is strong enough to survive, and even thrive, against impossible odds. It taps into something primal about human nature and how we, as a race, are determined to carry on no matter what’s thrown at us, and I think that’s why tales of this nature can be so vital, so compelling. I’m not saying that Wild Blue Yonder tackles these themes with any sort of pomposity (since my preamble may lead you to believe that’s where I was headed!) but it’s there in the background, the indomitable human spirit that propels most of the great stories of any age. Essentially we’re dealing with a band of outcasts doing their best to stay one step ahead of the bad guys in a distant future where the Earth’s surface is inhospitable and people have taken to the skies to stay alive, despite constant danger. With dynamic art that gloriously conveys the pulp sensibility of the lively script, this is a tremendous debut from a creative team clearly relishing the tale they’re telling. Exhilarating, adventurous fun. 8/10

Stewart R: What a wild ride of a debut this is. While the story does seem to borrow bits from various films, comics and media – Laputa: Castle In The Sky, Carbon Grey, Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow and even Indiana Jones all sprung to mind at various points - it does so with clear and assured drive. We’re introduced to Cola, the young pilot on the run with her family of battling skyfarers and the struggle that mankind faces on a world where the clouds draw the line between relative safety above and death below. The idea of a much desired ship that need never refuel sets the scene for the inevitable chase and The Judge and his fleet of trained assassins and pilots will make for persistent and threatening antagonists. The artwork is crisp and dynamic and the most eye-catching thing is Daniel’s palette of browns and oranges which really helps to set the scene of a world burning and choking under the acrid smog. There’s a gritty sense of fun to the whole thing, like the sombre threat of a thunder cloud with the glint of sun peeking from behind, and if you’re looking for some flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants action and sky piracy, then look no further than Wild Blue Yonder #1! 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuña
Marvel $3.99

James R: In this modern era of comics, it's a common cry that you don't often get a lot of bang for your proverbial buck. Since the widespread occurrence of $3.99 books, many fans ask if the 20 pages you get constitutes a good investment, with so many arcs tailored to be collected as trades rather than complete and involving reads in and of themselves. Hats firmly off then to Rick Remender this week for a bumper issue of Uncanny Avengers where we get the last issue's cliffhanger tied up, then see the (inevitably) nefarious plans of the Apocalypse Twins take shape, Captain America get rescued, and the Uncanny Avengers team tear itself apart due to a revelation from the past. This really reminded me of reading Marvel books as a kid, especially John Byrne in his pomp, where seemingly every panel was stuffed with ideas and story. Remender does the same here, and even finds a few pages to deal with the controversy of Havok's 'M-word' speech by showing how nuanced an argument over race and ethnicity (and mutation!) can be. The only downside is that Daniel Acuna's art, which has been magnificent over the last year both here and on the X-books, but isn't quite on the money on a couple of pages towards the end. Overall though, a fine issue, and a reminder of what can be accomplished with 20 pages of story. 9/10

Stewart R: Uncanny Avengers has felt a little stop/start since it kicked off. Rick Remender has tried to find that incredibly difficult balance between writing a book that is part Avengers, part X-Men, one that also carries on his fine work from Uncanny X-Force while also introducing new threats and also allows the ethical, political and philosophical questions about super powers and the persecution of mutants stand front and foremost. Some may baulk when the deep and heated debates between the characters begin, but for me it’s been those moments that have been the true highlight. This issue is certainly heavy on the ideals as some members of the team are chastised for their previous actions and this in turn then ratchets up the internal tensions of a team in crisis, the leadership structure cracking under the weight of ego. I do enjoy the fact that Wolverine’s guilt over his son is being heaped upon thanks to the team’s attitude to his X-Force missions, while Thor’s previous errors that he is now admitting too - which arguably will cause greater problems down the line - are almost brushed aside as if they’re not important. Some things do feel a touch off - Steve Rogers having a huge strop at Wolverine over his killing is rather out of place considering Logan’s well known reputation for slicing and dicing which he MUST be only too aware of - but they work when taking solely in the context of this book and they’re not enough to derail what is becoming a really intriguing monthly addition to my pull-list. Bring on the Apocalypse! 8/10

Writer: Jai Nitz
Art: Greg Smallwood
Dark Horse $3.99

Matt C: Dream Thief has come seemingly out of nowhere but is already shaping up to be one of the miniseries of 2013. This sophomore instalment mixes up supernatural possession, murder, revenge and the seedier side of the film industry as John Lincoln wakes up with blood on his hands again and has to backtrack to discover the whys and the hows. It’s a gripping read, infused with a genuine sense of urgency, and Nitz’s script has an edgy unpredictability that keeps you guessing from one moment to the next. Smallwood’s imagery bristles with hardboiled energy, adept at conveying both visceral action and tortured introspection. A tough, thrilling read that anyone keen to get in on the ground floor with new, exciting, creator-owned work should seek out at their earliest convenience. 8/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Russo & Patricia Mulvihill
DC/Vertigo $3.99

James R: I opened the first issue of Brother Lono with some trepidation - I adored 100 Bullets but felt its denouement wasn't quite the spectacular finale the series had promised. But it's Azzarello and Risso resurrecting the seemingly indefatigable Lono - I couldn't say no! And I'm pleased I couldn't refuse as this issue shows the creative team hitting their stride straight away. Those of you who (like me) love Breaking Bad will be familiar with the story's backdrop: the Mexican drug trade. We're not told how Lono escaped his fate in Miami, but it's clear that he’s stumbled into a war that requires his very special skills. It looks as beautiful as you'd expect from Risso, yet it feels deliciously grimy. It may only be for eight issues, but it's great to be back in the (under)world of the Minutemen. 8/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Cliff Richards, Mark Irwin, Marlo Aiquiza & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I’m thinking that I like the idea of this ‘Stages of Grief’ arc more than the actual final product. While Tomasi is doing a reasonable job of looking at Batman’s one man crusade to snuff out all crime in Gotham and find a way to resurrect his son from the perspective of Wayne’s former proteges and partners, it’s unfortunately starting to feel just a little repetitive. This issue, for example, dives into many of Barbara’s reasons for removing the Bat insignia from her costume and these aren’t all concerned with the ramifications of the Joker’s metaphorical knifing of the Bat family. She goes into the fallout from her psychotic brother’s end and what that has meant to the relationship between her and Jim Gordon and that’s all well and good, however the sad thing is that in this New 52 I have absolutely no clue as to what has taken place between them all so it means little to me! Sure, Cliff Richards’ (oh c’mon, you UK readers, stifle your chuckles) is a fine substitute for Patrick Gleason and he maintains that feeling of visual consistency, but there’s just something integral missing at present. This is a Batman book and while the protagonist remains an ill-tempered, one note whirlwind of fists and hatred - more a symbol of grief in some instances than a man suffering in his emotional pain – and the book does feel like it’s suffering too, and not in the best of ways. 6/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Matteo Scalera & Val Staples
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This has been the first time that I’ve dipped into Mark Waid’s stories of the gamma green goliath since Marvel NOW! began and I will own up to the fact that the inclusion of Daredevil and arrival of Matteo Scalera on pencils and inks were the convincing ingredients that have seen me swan dive straight in. Waid has been doing such a fine job over on Daredevil that rolling the Man Without Fear into this world of S.H.I.E.L.D. machinations and Bruce’s acceptance of his dual personality situation could simply not be missed. Well, it has proven to be a great four dollar gamble on my part. The banter and baiting between Maria Hill and Banner is terrific fun and has me wondering about what fun in that respect I may have missed until now. The use of Hulk/Banner as a weapon of mass destruction is a very interesting point and the legalities and ethics of such things makes Matt Murdock the perfect team-up guy for this story. Scalera really is a cut above when it comes to comic book visuals and it’s thanks to him that one of the best gags works so well over the course of five very similar, yet progressive panels. This is quick-witted, fast paced, pulsating comic book storytelling and having converted me to a Daredevil fan it’s looking like Mark Waid (with help from Scalera) could get me onboard with the Indestructible Hulk. A smash-ing 9/10!

Writer: Joshaua Williamson
Art: Victor Ibanez, Pere Perez & Ego
Dark Horse $2.99

Matt C: Following on from Wild Blue Yonder this week, Captain Midnight offers more pulp adventure by resurrecting a long forgotten Golden Age character for some man-out-of-time action and superheroics. Think Captain America, but instead of waking up and searching for his new place in the world Captain Midnight is much more a man determined to finish off his mission from the 1940s, decades ago chronologically speaking, but for him a very recent memory. Whereas Dynamite Entertainment’s continuing cycle of revamping/relaunching of Golden Age characters seems far too stuffy and reverential, Captain Midnight by comparison feels much more appealing and modern while retaining a sense of the past, via both the script and the visuals. There are moments where it looks like it might become too much of a slave to cliché, but those moments pass quickly, and overall this is a pretty convincing debut, strong enough to ensure issue #1’s place on my pull-list. 7/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: After bubbling under the surface since the series began, the Atlantis/Wakanda situation is finally addressed head on as the prospect of all-out war between the two nations becomes more likely after the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men. As expected, Hickman handles this with intelligence, successfully conveying the emotional need for justice that’s being argued for by the Wakandans, while highlighting how aware members of the Illuminati are that squabbles between nations are inconsequential when compared to what’s really at stake. Hopping over from their recently concluded arc on Avengers, Deaodato and Martin stick to with the ominous tone that Epting and co established, and if it reinforces the idea of these figures as cold and distant at times, perhaps in certain contexts they should be – men dealing with cosmic dilemmas regular folks can barely comprehend. That approach will probably turn some people off, but personally I’m revelling in Hickman’s take on these larger-than-life icons. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Steve Pugh, Francis Portella & Loverin Kindzierski
DC Comics $2.99

James R: Animal Man continues to be one of the great triumphs of DC's New 52. From the word go, Jeff Lemire found the right mix of the human (with Buddy Baker's family) and creepy, creating a new mythology for the character, tying and yet contrasting him to Swamp Thing as an avatar of the Red. After the 'Rotworld' saga it seems a lot of readers had lost faith, but for those of us who love Jeff Lemire's work, persistence is continuing to pay off as the story that has followed 'Rotworld' has been compelling an inventive. This month, Lemire uses social networking (and a Twitter proxy) to tell his story. As Buddy struggles to cope with the death of his son, he decides to investigate the widespread disappearance of animals in L.A. As he does so, a Twitter-esque stream is juxtaposed with his investigation, giving us an excellent example of how social media can report faster than any news agency, but can also be misleading. What Buddy finds is truly horrific (and for me a reminder that this is a Vertigo title in all but name). Simultaneously, we follow Buddy's daughter Maxine as she continues her journey as the true avatar of the Red, and this continued focus on the whole Baker family really gives the book an extra dimension which I really enjoy. It's also still a visual treat, and it's one of the few occasions where two artists work brilliantly in tandem rather than making for a nasty contrast. Coming up on its second anniversary, this book looks to have plenty of life in it still - there's no rot in Animal Man! 8/10

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Paul Davidson, Jay Leisten & Chris Peter
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Simon Spurrier wraps up the first year of this book (well 12 issues, you know what I mean!) with something of a rip-roaring face-off between David and one Johann Shmidt, the nefarious Red Skull, who now possesses the brain and some of the powers of the late Charles Xavier. I for one am glad that Spurrier decided to tackle the issue of his father’s desecration at the hands of the Nazi villain quite early on and what has been really impressive has been the way that he has kept the mystery continuous and engrossing. The grand reveal was done after selling a quite superb dummy to the readers and the concept of a group seeking to peacefully remove the mutant ‘problem’ through a popular campaign and pure substantiated reasoning is still one of my favourite premises of the year to date. The fact that it has turned out to be a secret fascist plot is just comic book gold. One of the big successes to this issue is that Legion manages to gain support and assistance from those individuals who harbour grudges or serious hate towards him - only one person genuinely owes him a favour and it’s a brilliant one - and Spurrier not only brings back characters from earlier in the run, but also David’s opinions on the structured teamwork found within the X-teams and how he can even see the positives in such things. Davidson has excelled himself during his stint on artistic duties and the battle fought on two fronts here is full of tension thanks in part to his delivery. Roll on another 12 months (and more) of X-Men Legacy! 8/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Steve Leialoha & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.65

Matt C: The previous arc ended in a far more satisfactory manner than the chapters leading up to it, and the same holds true for this arc too. Overall, it's been a much more arresting read as it tied into the team's personal (and personnel) history, but there's still the sense that there was a little too much padding on display, and Claremont could have got to the point in a much more efficient manner. The reveal here is that Karma's conversion to the 'dark side' is in actuality the result of her possession by Amahl Farouk, aka the Shadow King. This is one of the character's earliest appearances, before his origins became impossibly convoluted, and by and large it's a successful component in helping this issue rise above its recent predecessors. Generally, Lieloha's art is fit for purpose  although there are instances where real flair exhibits itself making him an acceptable addition to the creative team. Onwards and upwards from here, surely?? 7/10

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