14 Jul 2013

Mini Reviews 14/07/2013

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.

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #2
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

James R: Ahh, this is more like it! After a solid (but a bit over-gimmicky) start last month, issue #2 of Superman Unchained finds Scott Snyder hitting his stride and composing a Superman comic that's accessible, compelling and fittingly epic. After the wild difference of opinion in the fanboy community over Man Of Steel, I've really seen that Kal-El is a character that means so much to people that if he's written in a way that doesn't sit with their conception or ideals, then there is a real disconnect with the narrative. For me though, I like what Snyder's doing here - Superman is the character who always knows what the right thing to do is but here were given access to the interior monologue of a man who is having to improvise and think on his feet. This certainly drew me into the first ten pages, and thereafter Snyder shows that he's going all-out - not only do we get a great scene with Clark and Bruce Wayne, but he then shows us that along with the new Super-doppleganger, the Man of Steel is also going to have deal with Lex Luthor. Since the start of the New 52 I've bemoaned the lack of a really great Superman title, but it looks like I might have finally got my wish. This week, this was the book that gave me that authentic comics rush, and had me from first page to last. 8/10

Stewart R: So I wasn’t entirely convinced by the debut, but there was enough intrigue, mystery and super action to bring me back to the table for a second spoonful. Unfortunately, the promise that was showing in the writing of that first issue falls foul of a clear case of too many ingredients spoiling the dish. Snyder feels the need to give us another powered setpiece to show us all how Superman’s powers mean nothing without the intellect to utilise them properly, which is all well and good, but we had some of that given to us last issue and when you then have a conversation between Clark and Bruce Wayne that highlights the trust and mistrust in their relationship (the first time I’ve happened to read of this status quo since the New 52 universe began), Lois trotting off chasing a lead, Supes meeting the military might of the secretive US armed forces as well as the potential future slugging partner...*pause for breath*... AND Lex getting a reasonable amount of page time too it just feels to me that there’s too much going on. Snyder is clearly capable of juggling many plot points, yet it just feels like one ball too many has been thrown into the act and everything’s ended up on the floor in something of a disappointment. To this reader it’s unclear whether it's trying to sell the character of Superman to a new audience, or bring back readers who already know enough about the general characteristics of the Man of Steel and his regular supporting cast to just get stuck in and leave them to it, odd New 52 differences and exposition aside. Unlike Batman, where Snyder nailed the balance between understood mythos and new elements with expert precision, this feels like it’s on shakier, uncertain ground and strangely comes across as a book only half interested in the titular character as it has to deal with a slew of other individuals as well. It’s not terrible, it’s not even close to bad, but for me it’s not quite right, and in these busy days for my pull-list it’s sadly going to see me pass on it for now. 5/10

TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #2
Writers: Gerard Way & Shaun Simon
Art: Becky Cloonan & Dan Jackson
Dark Horse $3.99

Matt C: It’s going to sound lazy and predictable to say this considering who’s involved, but I’m going to say it anyway: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys has genuine punk rock spirit at its core. The rebellious nature shines through from every page, ever panel, of this arresting dystopic tale, and Way and Simon have created such a convincing future for their characters to bustle through that it resonates all the more. You could probably project a bunch of current situations onto to it for metaphorical purposes, and it would no doubt hold them up fairly well, but it wouldn’t work in the slightest if the characterizations and storytelling weren’t so engaging and on the money. Then there’s Cloonan’s art, which contains a built-in emotional warmth to help make our transit through a not so inviting future that much more palpable. The only downside I can see so far is that it’s only a miniseries. 8/10

EAST OF WEST #4
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Oh my! How can I possibly be so enthralled by such barbaric, visceral carnage in a comic book world only four issues young and feel concern and tension for the fates of characters who have been in our sight for even less time? There’s just something magical about the way Hickman has given us only the smallest amounts of character exposition since this series began, each morsel serving to ensure that the tumbleweed plot rolls ever onwards on its chaotic and mesmerising path, dropping odd presents of greatness along the way. This fourth instalment is full of action as Death and his allies turn up at the gates of New Shanghai, hungry for the letting of blood served with a garnish of revenge. What I particularly enjoyed was that Nick Dragotta elects to increase the number of panels on the page rather than go for the use of huge splashes and poster book moments. This decision helps to invoke a great feeling of speed as the opposing forces unleash hellfire upon each other and we witness Mao’s internal struggle to realise what fate surely awaits him. There’s an added twist in the tail from Hickman which is just superb and a spot on the PCG’s Current Top 15 couldn’t be more deserved. 9/10

UNCANNY X-MEN #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Chris Bachelo
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: What makes for a good comic? We could spend years debating that question, as it's fair to say that like all art, it's partially subjective, but if I had to go on record, I think many people would agree with me that we all like great story, beautiful art, innovation and a degree of depth. I mulled these over as I read Uncanny X-Men, as apart from Chris Bachelo's fine art this book has virtually no redeeming features. It immediately reminded me of Bendis' interminable run on Avengers, when we were treated to glacial narrative, snarky conversations and forgettable characters. After sticking with the Bendis' X-books for a good stint, I'm now becoming increasingly bored of them. He's taken a great premise and turned it into a dull, one-note series, which could be subtitled 'I'm a Mutant - I'm freaking out!' as every one of the new X-Men seem to be reacting in the same way. By the end of the issue I realised that I simply didn't care about what was happening, or what might happen next. For a $3.99 book, that's a crime, and a sure way to find it dropped from my pull-list. 4/10

BREATH OF BONES: A TALE OF THE GOLEM #2
Writers: Steve Niles & Matt Santoro
Art: Dave Wachter
Dark Horse $3.99

Stewart R: With the exception of the titular creature, this is a pretty straightforward tale of the impending fear that the German war engine provoked in the small towns and villages that found themselves in the path of its terrible wrath. It would’ve been easy for Niles and Santoro to get carried away with the supernatural element of this story and push quickly into a big old slugfest between clay giant and armoured tanks, yet they’ve held back and crafted a steady and sombre script that shows just how quickly fortunes for small communities would have turned back then. While there’s nothing particularly new in the way that the plot plays out - there’s an allied pilot to be hidden, the townsfolk disagree on what plan of action to take, then the Nazis show up with the inevitable rise in tension as the search is undertaken - it is delivered with graceful simplicity by Wachter whose art style conveys the sad determination of the townsfolk to go about their mission and hopefully escape to safety. This being only a three-parter, there’s sure to be the explosive finale next time, yet I’ve been surprised enough by the pacing so far to think that my expectations may prove to be somewhat incorrect when #3 arrives. Solid stuff. 8/10

DAREDEVIL #28
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Javier Rodriguez & Allvaro Lopez
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: To truly succeed with a book focusing primarily on one individual character, a writer must find the right voice, one that's both authentic and believable, one that rings true page after page. That's a key ingredient in the winning formula Mark Waid brings to Daredevil: he's found the right voice - a strong voice - and he uses it to set the tone of the storytelling, resulting in one of the most consistently compelling superhero books on the stands right now. Following last month's conclusion to the long running arc that saw one of Daredevil's greatest nemeses trying to destroy the Man Without Fear's life, one piece at a time, we get a breather of sorts: a blast from Murdock's past with a slight twist on the accepted notions of how he was as a boy, one that doesn't tarnish what's previously been established. Some time off for good behaviour for Chris Samnee means regular colour artist Javier Rodriguez gets to step up to the illustrative plate and produce some fantastic imagery that's thoroughly in keeping with the style already established for the series. Excellent, as always. 8/10

HAWKEYE #12
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Francesco Francavilla
Marvel $2.99

James R: The book that the PCG fittingly awarded our best current comic, continues to produce the goods. Francesco Francavilla returns for an issue which is an echo of his last chapter in #10. There we were told the backstory of the mysterious assassin Kazi, and here we find out about Clint's brother, Barney Barton. There aren't any of the visual fireworks that David Aja brought to the last issue, but once again it's great storytelling from Fraction as we learn about the Barton boy's troubled past, and we see that even though down on his luck, Barney is as dangerous as his brother. I'm full of admiration for how Fraction has built this comic into a world that is part of the Marvel Universe yet seemingly immune to big crossovers and events. We often talk about classic runs, but this feels like the real deal as when Fraction slows down the overall narrative of the book, he does so to add depth to the characters, and it all adds up to a comic that's innovative, refreshing, unique and… how many times do we have to say it?! Consistently the best book being published by the Big Two! 8/10

Matt C: In all honesty, I’ve never previously been that much of a Hawkeye buff to have been aware of Barney Barton before this issue (he seems to have made a bunch of appearance in comics I’ve not read). Now? Now, I’m kind of a fan. It helps that Fraction doesn’t put a foot wrong here (again), introducing Barney to his corner of the Marvel Universe as a down-on-his-luck individual who proves to be resourceful when the situation calls for it, someone who can open a can of whoop-ass when required. So we get barely an Clint this issue, but we get to see his stomping ground, complete with some familiar antagonists, from a different perspective, and it’s a joy, particularly when rendered by regular guest artist Francavilla, who captures the violent frisson of the urban milieu with aplomb. After the ‘Pizza Dog’ issue, this is another instalment that doesn’t push the overall arc onwards much, but it does help it expand outwards, giving it a more solid foundation. Sterling work by all involved. 8/10

SIX-GUN GORILLA #2
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jeff Stokely & Andre May
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: With the locale set, the main protagonists introduced, and the vague premise revealed, Spurrier goes about expanding on everything, bringing in a wider cast and throwing more intrigue the reader’s way. The stilted and less than fluid conversations between Blue and the Gorilla help to highlight their particular demeanours in double-quick time, Blue being the naive ‘fish out of water’ on a world that is hostile in more ways than he can count and the Gorilla being the quiet, wizened and brusque veteran who sets about keeping his new human accompaniment alive as it suits him to do so. Spurrier rolls in Blister inhabitant and local businesswoman Dora for the fun and her plucky, no nonsense attitude should definitely play well in a triangle between these spotlit individuals. The ever expanding horizons of the Blister, including its devilish flora and fauna as well as its extreme weather events - portrayed with panache by Stokely - really add to the excitement and the bigger plot thread involving BlueTech back on Earth and the manipulation and planning taking place there should only result in more fun down the line. This is well thought out science fiction saddled atop a fun, rollicking adventure. What’s not to like?! 9/10

NEW MUTANTS #37
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Mary Wilshire, Bill Sienkiewicz & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: Could this be the bleakest issue of New Mutants ever? Not having read them all I couldn’t possibly say for certain, but I can’t imagine any other instalment of this comic – in any guise – matching the oppressive hopelessness witnessed here. Really, you’d expect to see one of those “This Issue! Everybody Dies!” taglines emblazoned across the cover, but thankfully we don’t get to go down the sensationalist route – what we get is an image of a bored, dispassionate Beyonder barely responding as the teen mutants attempt to take him down. Usually you expect covers (particularly from this era) to exaggerate the interior action a little, but if anything, this downplays it quite a bit. Obviously looking back almost three decades later we know there were plenty more New Mutants tales to come, but cracking it open back then, not really anticipating the death toll within, was a shocker (as it was for me, when I read this – my 2nd full New Mutants story – as part of the UK Secret Wars II series). Powerful stuff, even with the benefit of hindsight, and one of the strongest, boldest issues of the series to this point. 8/10

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