30 Jun 2013

Mini Reviews 30/06/2013

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.

LAZARUS #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image $2.99

James R: There are some books that you know are going to be great before you even open them - the talents involved are such that you know you're not going to be sold a dummy, and so it proves with Lazarus. Along with Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark put together one of my favourite series ever, the majestic Gotham Central, and seeing Rucka and Lark reteam for Lazarus, I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed, but better than that, I was totally knocked out. The book has a dystopian setting that feels all-too-believable as in the near future, nation states no longer exist and the world is fun in a feudal state by mega-rich families. Each family has a protector - a Lazarus - who is seemingly unkillable and naturally badass. This introductory chapter brilliantly introduces us to the world of Lazarus, and to our protagonist, the aptly named Forever. Once again, Image shows the other publishers exactly how it's done - 28 ad-free pages at $2.99! Rucka crams so much into these page, including a superb essay in the back from the scribe highlighting his motivations and development of the title, which should be read by anyone with an interest in the creative process. If you're looking for a book that's not all tights and capes, and has a prescient plot, you need look no further than Lazarus. I'd say it was a miraculous first issue, but from this creative team it's par for the course. 9/10

Matt C: Image seem to have turned themselves into something akin to a giant magnet in the comics industry, attracting the best talent available with irresistible ease. The creators they have working for them right now must be the envy of every other publisher, Marvel and DC included. They’re at the forefront of the push to bring creator-owned work into the mainstream and Lazarus is another prime example of just how successful they’re being. Ever since the untouchable Gotham Central, I consider the Rucka/Lark combination to be a pretty sure thing when it comes to producing solid gold comics, and Lazarus doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Yes, it’s another dystopian future, but as I keeping saying, it’s all in the telling, and it’s told in such a convincing, plausible fashion (inspired by the recent global financial crisis) that all you need to is sit back and marvel at the confidence of the script and the assured intensity of the illustrations. It’s a riveting, accomplished opening that suggests that very, very good things lie ahead. 8/10

HAWKEYE #11
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

James R: Over the last few weeks, I've been delivering a series of lectures as an after-school project on the history and form of comics. One of my central themes has been that comics are real art because, as with work that gets hung in a gallery, there are no rules or form as to what makes a comic. How a creative team chooses to tell a story is entirely up to them. The nine-panel grid, the huge splash pages - whatever, it's all good. What I get really excited about as a fan is when a comic comes along and does something new with the medium, and shows us that the possibilities of graphic storytelling are virtually limitless. So that brings us to this month's Hawkeye, which as you've probably heard by now, is told entirely from the point of view of Hawkeye's adopted dog, Arrow. It is exceptional in every way. It's not unique - the methods used by David Aja have been employed by Chris Ware for years - but it was fantastic to see them being used so effectively, and - this was the great part - still move the overall narrative on! This wasn't a fill-in or a throwaway, this was a vital chapter of a series that can lay a strong claim to being the best superhero book published at the moment and certainly one of the best of the decade. A masterclass in graphic storytelling, and – yep! - a work of art. 10/10

X-MEN #2
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin, Matt Milla & Christina Strain
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The quality evidenced within the pages of this second issue actually sends tingles up my spine. Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales with Laura Martin and the small retinue of colourists provide some of the best comic book visuals you’re likely to see within a monthly title this year and has me wishing that we could have 12 issues containing their work running every single January through December. Coipel’s dynamism with his pencil work is quite honestly mind-blowing, piecing together fight and action sequences with masterful skill (the flow between the fisticuffs involving Arkea, Beast, Rogue and Kitty is - har har - sublime!) while offering up a terrific variety in his angles and layouts to make quieter moments and conversations speak volumes. And speak they do, imbued as they are with a great sense of believability and emotion thanks to the sterling work of Brian Wood. It’s thanks to the mutant writing man of the moment that the sense of threat feels very real and the teamwork and interaction between the X-Women is some of the best captured on paper since Mike Carey worked his magic on the former iteration of this book. Wood juggles multiple characters with ease, relying on the reader’s assumed knowledge of general X-history and the line up to leave out a lot of the blatant exposition that other ‘new’ X-titles can occasionally stump for. Arkea is a very interesting menace who doesn’t fit into that ‘evil’ category straight away while maintaining an air of genuine, planet-ending/changing danger and Wood even manages to have Sublime involved in the most heartwarming scene of the issue! Utterly engrossing and unbelievably beautiful. Everything I want from an X-Men book. 10/10

James R: In a bumper week not only for comics per se, but also for the X-books, Brian Wood's X-Men takes the crown for the best issue featuring Marvel's Mutants. While Bendis is busy throwing his huge cast around a pretty nebulous narrative on his two titles, Brian Wood delivers a sharp uppercut of a book. After the introduction of John Sublime's sister Arkea last issue, he wastes no time in having her unleash hell on the X-Men. There is a real sense of urgency and pace to the book that I loved, and this was mixed with the great SF concept of Arkea - a being who moves through technology as well as organic matter, augmenting her own powers as she goes. It's also great to see Brian Wood make John Sublime far more interesting in two issues than he was during his entire appearances in Grant Morrison's New X-Men. Not only is there a palpable sense of threat and danger in these pages, but Wood also manages to develop his characters, and, as he did during his last stint on a X-Men title, he really makes them believable. Finally it looks beautiful - Oliver Coipel turns in his usual great art, and the small army of colourists give the title a lush look. We're left with a great cliffhanger here, but there's certainly no doubt that I'll be back for more next month. 8/10

RED LANTERNS #21
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alessandro Vitti & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99

Stewart R: From my rather short involvement with the Green Lantern titles - I dived in just before Blackest Night kicked off - I have become a big fan of Guy Gardner as depicted by Geoff Johns and particularly Peter J. Tomasi, and have also found the Red Lantern Corps to be a very interesting prospect indeed, not least because they have been steadily evolved and developed as a group by various creative teams. With Red Lanterns #21, these two aspects come into close proximity to each other and I have to say that it’s not the mix that I was hoping for. I’ll give Soule his due, he gives Atrocitus the determined voice I’ve come to expect from the Red Lantern leader and the conversation between Guy and Hal that puts Gardner back on the path to the red light of rage is very close to getting things right. The biggest problem I have is that this particular premise is incredibly flawed from the very outset, especially considering just how much believable growth Gardner has been through these past three or four years. The story screams allusion to the fact that the editorial powers needed to spread the human Lanterns across all of the books and this was simply a ‘best fit’ job despite the hefty crowbar needed to make it work this way. Vitti’s artwork certainly acts as pleasant visual grease to help the stuffing and straining that the plot suffers from, but it’s not going to be enough for me to follow a book where I instantly feel that the protagonist I enjoyed reading about has now left the building to be replaced with someone greatly removed from that mould. 4/10

JUPITER’S LEGACY #2
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Frank Quitley & Peter Doherty
Image $2.99

Matt C: Sometimes the artwork in a comic book is so intoxicating that it can divert away a huge chunk of attention you’d normally use to assess the quality of the writing. Obviously really bad writing isn’t something that can be swamped by pretty pictures alone, but writing that isn’t as good as it thinks it is can be mistaken as much better than it really is when the art has your jaw dropping on a regular basis. This situation seems to be occurring with Jupiter’s Legacy. The writing’s not bad by any means (this isn’t an excuse for Millar-bashing!) but the tale being told isn’t anything new (superhero kids disappointing superhero parents), nor is the adult approach being taken, and it does feel like ground that’s been trodden on many times before (including by Millar himself). That probably sounds more dismissive than intended – it is an arresting read, one that I’ll stick with, but it’s Quitely’s intricately composed panels that really lend the proceedings a weight that doesn’t really exist in the script. Millar’s story is good, but Quitely’s art may trick you into thinking the finished product is great. It’s not, at least not yet, anyway. 7/10

CRAWLING SKY #4
Writers: Keith Lansdale & Joe R. Lansdale
Art: Brian Denham
Antarctic Press $3.99

Stewart R: This Western/Horror miniseries really had me in its grasp from that opening chapter and the subsequent two instalments kept my attention as Norville and the mysterious wandering Preacher set about trying to avoid a gruesome death by banishing or defeating the hideous demon that Norville had inadvertently unleashed. With this final piece of the four-part puzzle I will admit that I was expecting something a little different to what we get here, though it certainly does provide a resolution. Where the previous issues involved Norville and the Preacher’s scheming and occasional run ins with the beast, it was depicted in a consistent and steady way, with Denham’s subtle line work providing plenty of brooding tension and allowing for clear storytelling in the absence of unnecessary dialogue. At this climactic moment however, it seems that the decision has been made to do away with consistency and so the big battle of this story is told in broad - and somewhat jarring - artistic strokes. Much of the issue is captured in silhouette, possibly to try to emphasise the ferocity and simplicity of the skirmish and the darkness that it represents. While it is effective in some places it feels unfortunately rushed in others and it does take the shine off of the series as a whole when I had been very impressed with what had come before from both writers and artist. So this conclusion doesn’t match up to the earlier promise, but I will say that the journey that got us here definitely has me interested to see if anything else set in this comic book world may get release at a future point. 5/10

THINK TANK #8
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: I’ve been a huge fan of this book from the get go, but I was initially a bit sniffy about the suggestion on the cover that “Reading this book will make you smarter”. I took it as a tongue-in-cheek statement, one that suggested this would be a smart book and you’d need to be smart to get on board with it, but it wasn’t really going to expand your mind in any way. Now? Now I’m coming around to the idea that, yes, this book could conceivably make you smarter! At its core it’s about a man coming to grips with his own notion of morality and accepting the consequences his actions have in the real world, but the thing that adds the extra weight to the proceedings is the level of intelligence being applied to create a believable environment and the ideas at play that are evidently the result of a lot of genuine research (see the insightful backmatter for proof). I come away from each issue this book knowing more than I did when I opened the first page, so I guess you could construe that as me saying I’m a little bit smarter because of it. Of course, it’s not all ideas and knowledge as the characterization is consistently on the money, and Ekedal brings things to life in thoroughly convincing manner. There are a couple of panels of David Loren looking utterly deflated that say much more about the character than several pages of text ever could. If you’re not currently reading this book then, quite simply, this is the best book you’re not currently reading. 9/10

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #4
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I had complained in my review of issue #3 that BMB seemed to be ignoring much of the character work for the Guardians themselves and would you believe it, he actually turns around and addresses things to some degree this time. Okay, so he doesn’t share the love around all of the members, but giving Gamora some needed time in the spotlight also has the double function of allowing things to get even more complicated for the heroes on the run while also giving Pichelli the opportunity to get involved with some chin-bruising, neck-cracking action. As a replacement for Steve McNiven on pencils and inks she is a truly perfect choice and every page is a vibrant, high quality whirlwind of eyeball candy thanks to her and Justin Ponsor’s work. While I enjoyed the focus on the female member of the team it does still feel that Bendis still hasn’t quite decided how he wants to depict his Peter Quill, stumping up for a vague attempt at making him slightly roguish here and then throwing it under the bus when the nearest sight of plot turns up to kibosh that development. Bendis is clearly more inclined to dive into Stark’s holiday out in the cosmos rather than concentrate on the actual team leader and at least if he’s going to do that he does have a little fun with it, the techy banter between Rocket and Stark as well as the flirtatious games played briefly between the latter and the most dangerous woman in the galaxy being the high points. This is still not quite where it needs to be four issues in, but there has definitely been some groundwork laid here that should put things on track if Bendis chooses to follow through on it. 7/10

NEW MUTANTS #35
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Mary Wilshire & Bill Sienkiewicz
Marvel $0.65

Matt C: In many ways, New Mutants is kept within the shadow of Uncanny X-Men because it’s direction is controlled to a certain extent by what occurs in its sister (parent?) title. Enough stuff happens outside the pages of this book, affecting and influencing it, that occasionally it scuppers its chances to develop its own identity. Not all the time, but sometimes that feeling seeps in from the edges, and you’re left with the feeling that if you’re not reading Uncanny X-Men from the same period concurrently, you’re missing out. This probably isn’t a criticism I could pursue for long as I’m all for a shared universe and it’s certainly more cohesive than the multi-book crossovers we get these days, but sometimes I do long for an uninterrupted narrative. Ignoring the moaning, this is the issue when Magneto – now the headmaster at the Xavier school – gets his first go round with the teenage superheroes that make up the New Mutants. It’s pretty by-the-numbers, the kids resistant to their new teacher before eventually coming around, but it’s conveyed in a confident manner, and Sienkiewicz returning to ink Mary Wilshire’s pencils turns out to be a decent combination (a poor cover though!). A filler, largely to highlight a change in the status quo that was decided elsewhere, but overall it’s a generally successful instalment. 7/10

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Matt Hawkins normally does his research, but he doesn't show a basic understanding of neural activity in Think Tank 8. Neurons don't travel.

Even when he gets his facts right, his comic isn't likely to make you smarter. More knowledgeable, yes. But that's not the same thing as smarter.

Matt C said...

I'd argue that more knowledge, as long as you know how to process it correctly, can make you smarter. Your IQ could be in the upper echelons, but unless you give your brain the proper excersise, you're not automatically smarter than the next guy.