11 Aug 2013

Mini Reviews 11/08/2013

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: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: With the freedom that has come with the digital expansion of the comic book industry it’s good to see that some creators are still happy to play with the conventions that your standard 36-page paper offering provides. Lemire has excelled himself with his opening gambit for this science-fiction, time-travelling story, coming at the idea from two angles and via the perspectives of two individuals separated by a span of 1800 years. For the record, I read the section focussing on William, the WWI veteran from 1921, first and liked the jump forward that I then got when reading the second half, but the pure beauty of Trillium #1 is that it really does feel like you could read it in either order and still end up with the same sense of fulfilment at the conclusion. Lemire’s skill on the artistic side of things has definitely grown over the course of his run on Sweet Tooth and while his visual expression may not be for everyone, it’s hard to deny that he’s done a damn fine job of clearly defining two very different periods in time with an impressive air of mystery and foreboding. One of the top guys in the creator-owned business showing how it should be done. 9/10

James R: Wow. Where to begin with my admiration for this book? Even the old maxim of 'start at the beginning' doesn't apply here as Jeff Lemire has created a comic where you chose where to begin. You can either start with the Aztec exploration of William Pike in the 1920s, or you can flip the book and read the desperate mission of Nika Temsmith in 3397. Either way, you're in for an absolute treat as this is one of the outstanding books you'll read this year. My love for Jeff Lemire's work is no secret, and as a fan it's a huge treat to see him taking his work to a whole new level of ambition and invention. At its heart, this 10-issue series is a love story, as William and Nika are the very embodiment of star-crossed lovers, but as a SF fan it's great to see Lemire fusing his talent for emotion with a great science-fiction idea. It's also great to see his art continuing to evolve and change, and it's beautifully augmented by the colours of Jose Villarrubia. I also love books which challenge the medium, and as simple as the flip-book idea is, it also works incredibly effectively here, introducing our two protagonists and setting up what's to come with aplomb. I was bereft at the end of Sweet Tooth, as I felt that magical series ending left a vast hole in my pull-list. I need not have worried - it seems incredible books have become Jeff Lemire's trademark. 10/10

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Tom Mandrake & HiFi
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The tough times of the super-powered or the slow fall from grace of the hero is nothing particularly new - that well tends to get dipped into more than most when it comes to the comic book medium - yet there’s something so immediately sombre and hopeless about Straczynski’s depressed protagonist that I can’t help but be instantly curious about where this story may lead. Barry, aka Flyboy, was the sidekick for Sol City’s prominent hero, The Red Cowl, before one lethal incident and a steady spiral of depression, limited opportunities and poor decisions left Barry struggling to find direction with his life and keep out of the darker corners that may offer him temporary respite from his run of ‘bad’ luck. It’s an interesting look into the life of the also-ran, that guy happy to travel in the shadow of another, yet who struggles with the confusion and bewilderment when thrust into the sun himself. Straczynski tends to be at his best when cutting to the emotional heart of his characters and Sidekick has early promise of being a very dark character study indeed. Mandrake and HiFi’s visuals highlight the garish absurdity of the superhero/villain aesthetic against the troubles of ‘real world’ problems and they do a great job of echoing the downbeat nature of Straczynski’s script. Barry’s journey is sure to be a bumpy one and I’m certainly up for seeing where the second leg takes us. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer
Art: Stefano Caselli, Marco Rudy. Marco Checchetto & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: On the surface, you could probably look at this issue and see it as a sort of placeholder, moving the various players into position in readiness for the Infinity event. In a sense you'd be right, but there's a heck of a lot more to admire here, not least the confirmation that Hickman has been carefully building his story since the debut instalment of this series. Ex Nihlo and co, Starbrand and friends... it's all been leading up to this moment, and it's been brilliantly orchestrated by a writer who's earned a deserved reputation for constructing complex, ongoing narratives, where things that initially seem throwaway return to display their importance later on. It's the kind of thing Hickman did on Fantastic Four and FF, and it always surprised me when people familiar with his work wrote those series off for plotlines that seemingly went nowhere, apparently forgetting that with Hickman, there's always a payoff. Infinity begins in earnest this week with the first issue of the miniseries, and I have to say that with Hickman at the helm I'm more optimistic about it than any other event from Marvel for several years. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Johnnie Christmas & Shari Chankhamma
Image $2.99

Matt C: This tale of a survivalist community that sees the children staging a bloody coup has plenty of fictional antecedents but just because the tropes are familiar it doesn't make them any less powerful. It plays into the primal fear of the world being turned upside down but also the notion of a parent failing to instil a proper moral framework into their offspring, and for anyone who's ever produced offspring, that's a scary thought. Of course the rigid indoctrination hasn't seeped into every corner of this community, and while some don't quite have the emotional wherewithal to cope with the consequences of their actions, others - our protagonists, essentially - have outright rejected what's taken place. There's plenty to chew on here, with a heavy emphasis on themes of paranoia and trust, but at its core it comes across as the beginning of a powerful human drama that will thrive on conflict, both internal and external, and has the potential to be one of the jewel's in Image's crown if the conviction from the creator's remains constant and true. 8/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Joƫlle Jones & Nick Filardi
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: There's nothing especially surprising about the way this final issue unfolds but it's a bloody, visceral thrill to behold all the same. With one witch down there's another left for Rikard to take care of, the hurdle being she's the one responsible for returning him from the dead. There are a couple of twists (one especially effective) but mostly we're dealing with scores being settled, losses being accepted and vengeance being extracted. Jones' art has been an absolute highlight of this series: craggy, violent and yet strangely intimate, by the final page it's fair to say she's achieved absolute mastery of this milieu. The suggestion at the end is that it's not actually the end, and they'll be more to come further down the line. Fingers crossed that comes to pass. 8/10

Writer: Brian MIchael Bendis
Art: David Lafuente & Jim Campbell
Marvel $3.99

James R: This is quickly turning into a title with an identity crisis. Whereas Brian Wood's X-Men and Jason Aaron's Wolverine & The X-Men are both books with a strong sense of identity, Bendis' flagship title doesn't seem to quite know what it's about at the moment. After the heavy action of recent issues, we jump into a chapter which veers close to being an Archie comic in places. Young Scott Summers and Bobby Drake decide to spend (another) afternoon away from the Jean Grey School in order to be 'real teenagers' while Jean Grey realises that Hank McCoy suffers from unrequited love as much as he does finding shoes that fit. I loved the art - David Lafuente's cartoonish style worked really well, and it was a refreshing change from the hyper-real pencils on this title - however, I can't help but think that my view on this book boils down to the fact that my view of how the original X-Men respond to living amongst their future selves jars with how Bendis sees it. Bobby Drake's main complaint this month is 'My future me is dating someone I don't like!' Really? This is the main concern of a teenager thrust decades into a strange future? I know it seems crazy in a book about people with super-powers but it feels very artificial to me. Maybe I'm getting too old and cynical, but given my admiration for the aforementioned X-books, this one is increasingly looking the square peg in the mutant cannon. 6/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Howard Chaykin
Image $2.99

Matt C: What this series unequivocally nails for me is the sense of period – it really succeeds in bringing its 1950s timeframe to life in a way that feels realistic, if stylised. I don’t always get on with Chaykin’s artwork but the decision to go black and white, coupled with the era in question, really suits his style, and on the whole the illustrations capture a world where seediness lurks just out of sight wherever you look. There is a problem in that a few of the characters look a little too similar, and as this an issue devoted to giving us more details on the cast it does cause confusion at points. Another problem: we’re essentially being sold this book as a kind of whodunit – “Who killed Satellite Sam?” – but here that seems the least of anyone’s concerns. Life goes on, people are adapting to his absence, but as to who was responsible, well that doesn’t come across as a priority just yet. It’s not such a major issue just now, but it’s unclear whether the mystery angle is going to come more into play or the series will stay more as a character piece with the expected noir plotline running in the background. The latter approach may work but personally I think Satellite Sam needs a stronger backbone than it’s showing here. 7/10

James R: After feeling a little underwhelmed with the debut issue of Satellite Sam - I think the book didn't quite fulfil the potential of the subject matter - issue #2 is certainly an improvement as the story settles down and Matt Fraction starts to display the sophistication that has become his hallmark. Despite being pitched as a murder mystery, the series is as much about the explosion of TV in the 1950s, and this issue focuses on Ginsberg (the founder of the TV network where the tale unfolds) desperately trying to secure his - and the station's - future after the death of Carlyle White. As a huge fan of Mad Men, I certainly got a similar vibe from Satellite Sam; a period piece, with deception and work politics as central themes. The end of issue #2 is normally the point at which I decide if I'm on board or not for a miniseries, and after 45 pages of story, Fraction and Chaykin have certainly done enough to see how this one is going to pan out. It's not Fraction at his best (yet) but it's certainly another strong title from the increasingly impressive Image stable. 7/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Jackson Guice , Terry Austin & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: A rarity for this series, an issue devoted entirely to one member of the team, but if any of them deserve that kind of attention then it's definitely Danielle Moonstar aka Mirage. She's been the most interesting, layered character for me since the series began, so shining the spotlight on her is most welcome. It's a classic set-up with the young mutant returning to where she was raised, dealing with things left unresolved in her past which in turn help her to resolve decisions for her future. It's very wordy, as you'd expect from Claremont, with an enormous amount of introspection, but Danielle can withstand this kind of attention, and it's a fine, illuminating read all told. Guice returns on pencils, this time accompanied by legendary Uncanny X-Men inker Terry Austin who provides a polish to the arresting, concise visuals. There's a maturity that seems to have found its way into this title over the last few issues and it's become a far more appealing proposition as a result. 8/10


Living Tribunal said...

As much as I love the X-Men (and I have every issue from 94 up), the comics have been less than compelling (with few exceptions) for almost a decade. IMO Matt Fraction's run was mediocre, and Kieron Gillen's run was mildly interesting but short. I don't particularly care for Mr. Bendis' writing (haven't for a long time)and am baffled as to why he is so highly regarded. He is not a "superhero" writer and his writing style/dialogue is for 10 year olds. That said, I gave him a chance with the X-titles. After 10 issues of All New and 5 issues of Uncanny I am done. I will no longer pay good money for what IMO are mediocre comics. At best I might wait to pick up subsequent issues when they find their way into the bargain bin. The only other Bendis title I am reading is GOTG and I quickly loosing patience with that one as well. Anyone feel the same.

Badger said...

I'm with you on this one Living Tribunal.For along time now I've been wondering why Marvel put so much faith in Bendis when it's plain to see as you put in that the guy can not write a decent superhero comic, and when he doe's do something half decent like Scarlet it ends up being months behind[that's why I dropped it].As for the X-Men titles I've loved the X-Men since I began collecting in the 70's,but as before Marvel are saturating the market with so many X titles and now Avengers that a lot of these comics are just becoming run of the mill to read.Maybe one day Marvel will stop counting the dollars and go back to the principles they were founded on.

Matt Clark said...

Bendis comes up with a lot of great ideas but his execution of those ideas is generally lacking. He's much better at street-level superheroics than stuff like Avengers, as evidenced by his classic run on Daredevil.

Scarlet is the best thing I've read of his in years, but as mentioned above the scheduling is a real problem. But I guess the big name titles are what pays the bills!