1 Sep 2013

Mini Reviews 01/09/2013

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.

SECRET #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Bodenheim & Michael Garland
Image $3.50

Matt C: It’s been over a year since the second issue of this series appeared, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it might never have been seen again. Fortunately it has returned, as those first two instalments were really, really strong, setting the wheels in motion of a magnetic conspiracy thriller, where deceit and danger constantly lurked under the surface of the narrative. It kind of goes without saying that you’ll need to refresh your memory of the first two chapters before heading into the third as there’s a lot of plot to take on board, especially when it comes to grasping who’s conning who, who can be trusted (as far as it goes) and picking up on how the mystery is unfolding. We’re more often than not used to seeing Hickman playing on a broad canvas, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that as evidenced by the rest of his current output, but a change of pace is welcome on occasion, and it’s nice to see one of his tales operating in a smaller, more contained environment. Bodeheim’s art possesses an effective brawny realism and Garland’s minimalist colour palette succeeds in emphasising shifts in tone and emotion. Secret is a smart, tricksy and compulsive read, and I fervently hope it’s not beset my any more scheduling delays! 8/10

MIND MGMT #14
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: Another month, another stellar issue of Mind MGMT. After spending a long (but wildly fun) time exploring the world of Mind MGMT, Kindt really ups the pace this issue, and there is a definite feeling of this arc moving towards a deadly endgame... or is it? One of the things that I love about Mind MGMT is that it constantly keeps the reader on his or her toes. Here, Meru recounts her past to Bill, but as she does so, both he - and the always engaging field guides running along the page - suggest that maybe these memories are implants. I'm reminded of the art of Rene Magritte, who cleverly played with words and images to keep his audience unsettled. On a more base level, I just love an espionage tale, and even though I know secret societies and agencies are pure fiction, I can never get enough of 'em! I'm in the middle of reading Kindt's Red Handed at the moment (expect a full review of that soon) and with every page I see my respect for the man's talent grow. In a week of strong titles, this was still the clear winner for me. 9/10

THUMBPRINT #3
Writers: Jason Ciaramella & Joe Hill
Art: Vic Malhotra
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Three part miniseries are a strange nut to crack: the pacing needs to be spot on, the story strong enough to carry it through the chapters, and characterization needs to be fairly swift with - ideally - any twist or payoff being sufficiently satisfactory, if not even more fulfilling. Thumbprint managed to capture my interest through the first two chapters with Mal’s difficulty in settling back into everyday life after a tour of Afghanistan made even worse by a mysterious stranger stalking and tormenting her. The look back to her troubled times overseas, paralleled with social problems back home, was well told and things seemed to be building impressively. Unfortunately this finale doesn’t quite deliver the conclusion that perhaps the story deserved, descending into somewhat obvious thriller territory that was signposted last time out. The curtains now pulled aside it really feels like maybe another chapter was required to explain the antagonist’s involvement in further detail and to allow the tension to build. As it stands everything gets wrapped up in double quick time and while it’s a pretty well-polished product overall I can’t help but feel that there was potential for something better with Thumbprint. 6/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #35
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, Laura Martin & Various
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’d fallen behind on this title recently so a catch-up session last week served as a timely reminder of its strengths in preparation for the finale of the enjoyable ‘Hellfire Saga’ storyline. There’s a serious side to Wolverine & The X-Men certainly, but what sticks out most of all is how much damned fun it is. Aaron revels in a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach but keeps steady control of things to ensure they don’t descend into outright silliness, meaning that when the emotional beats come they really hit their mark. Bradshaw is kind of the signature artist for this series, and although he’s not present in the credits every issue, you know that when he is your guaranteed some superb, exuberant artwork. This is the most joyously funny and emotionally resonant X-book currently on the stands and I continue to marvel at the fact that it’s written by the guy behind Scalped! 8/10

LAZARUS #3
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image $2.99

James R: Another fine issue of Lazarus this week sees Greg Rucka adding more layers to this brilliantly realised world. Rather than being sworn enemies, we learn that Forever and her opposite number, Joacquim, are very much brothers in arms - united in the alienation that being a Lazarus brings. Beyond this, I was really reminded of Game Of Thrones, as this tale shares a number of that epic's good qualities: the scheming, powerful families, ruthless intent - it's all here too. Yesterday, at one of the Melksham Comic Con panels, the question was raised as to whether some comics are written as visual pitches for potential movies (the clear answer was 'Yes', by the way!) I don't think for a moment that this book was written with that intent, but the Lazarus certainly has got the feel and quality we attribute to the best of other media. With this skilful handling of power relationships and a world that has almost perfect verisimilitude, I hope that Lazarus is going to run and run. 8/10

UNCANNY X-MEN #11
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Frazer Irving & Kris Anka
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: While I believed Frazer Irving’s art style to be perfectly suited to the team’s trip to Limbo I certainly had my reservations that he was the artist to sit in tandem with Chris Bachalo when it comes to the ongoing adventures of the Uncanny X-Men. At this juncture I actually feel those reservations ebbing away somewhat as Irving is doing an exemplary job of bringing his own unique flair to this book whilst maintaining a great sense of excitement in his visual storytelling. Here we get the team confronting another Sentinel-based threat and I really enjoyed the way that Irving dealt with the team’s response. The flick over to Kris Anka’s work when it comes to Dazzler’s current mission was a bit strange - as was the sequence itself which I’m still not sure of in terms of the ongoing plot from Bendis - yet it didn’t distract too much from a lovely looking issue. The bigger question lies with where the writer plans on taking this team as he just seems intent on jumping everyone from location to location rather than dealing with some character growth and development in smaller, more focussed stages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying what we’re getting with Uncanny X-Men, it’s just that I’m starting to ask a few questions about where this is all leading and if there’s enough variety presently to maintain the interest long term. 7/10

THINK TANK #9
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: David Loren is thrown right out of his comfort zone and into the middle of the kind of operation he’s previously only witnessed on a TV screen, to predictably chaotic results. At its core, Think Tank is about someone grappling with his own moral code within an environment that favours multiple shades of grey over blacks and whites, but Hawkins elevates it to another level with the depth of research on display and, perhaps most importantly, the utterly engaging voice he provides the main character with as he dispenses his observations. Clearly – especially when reading the insightful backmatter – a lot of this ‘voice’ is coming directly from Hawkin’s own POV, but it’s so authentic and persuasive that you just have to sit back and relish getting schooled by someone who wants to tell you a compelling tale AND open your eyes a bit more to how fast the world’s moving into the future. Ekedal is still on top form and when you barely notice the lack of colour in some comic book art because it’s conveying absolutely everything it needs to, you know it must be pretty damn special. And that’s actually a perfect way to describe the book as a whole: pretty damn special. 9/10

YOUNG AVENGERS #9
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton & Matthew Wilson
Marvel Comics $2.99

James R: I feel this review may be slightly biased after hearing Kieron Gillen holding court yesterday at Melksham Comic Con, but reading this after him talking through the process of writing an issue, and learning how he made certain decisions, it felt like I had a great director's commentary! Even if I didn't know all this, I still would have loved this chapter, as it showcases how this is book is a perfect fit for the talents of Gillen and McKelvie. After a dimension-jumping odyssey, things are wrapped up with a confrontation that was more profound than a hundred blood and thunder fights. The book is beautifully balanced as well, with Gillen managing the trickiest of tasks on a team title, giving each character time to breathe and grow. When this version of Young Avengers was announced, I was a little uncertain as after Allan Heinberg's excellent run, and had my doubts that it would be able to sustain a long run. I'm very pleased to say that Gillen and McKelvie have banished all those doubts in my mind - in every way, this is an outstanding and unique title. 8/10

UNWRITTEN #52
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham, Dean Ormston & Inaki Miranda
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: Perhaps this is more appealing to fans of Fables because personally I’m coming away from this crossover so far wondering what the heck is going on. I do think, overall, The Unwritten has been a really great series: intelligent, enlightening and generally flat-out entertaining. It suffered a bit of a fallow period recently when the action shifted away from the regular cast but it had just gotten itself back on track again to my mind, before this arc appeared and threw a spanner in the works. I’ve never read an issue of Fables but from where I’m sitting this arc is wallowing a lot more heavily in the mythology from that series than it is for The Unwritten. On one hand, I don’t really feel well-placed to judge it as comic book read because it does seem like I’m coming into the middle of something I know little about, but on the other hand this is a book I’ve picked up 52 issues of and I shouldn’t really be feeling completely lost at this stage! I think once this storyline is done we’ll be back in business (presumably nearing the end of the series?) but for now I’m just riding it out and scratching my head, bewildered. 5/10

NEW AVENGERS #9
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The big question with Hickman’s preparation and vision for the Infinity event was going to be just how he tied the associated Avengers titles into the mix to make them accessible to those not already invested in those series and also maintain the drive that had seen both titles stride out with their own distinctive plots. New Avengers #11 has all of the ingredients in place to make this feel like an integral chapter of the whole Infinity story - the Black Order’s direct hunt for the members of the Illuminati to secure the one missing Infinity Gem allows Hickman to introduce these dangerous foes and compare them to Earth’s finest - yet does in some steps feel too tied to what has come to pass here previously for the uninitiated reader - Namor and Black Panther’s precarious relationship may not be known to some and it forms an important part of this chapter. I’m actually fine with that as I’ve picked this title up from the beginning and I’m particularly enjoying how Hickman is playing around with the dangerous politics and high stakes gambling that these leaders are involved in. Deodato was always going to be a good fit for these event tie-in chapters and he delivers a fine performance with pen and ink that perhaps on just one or two occasions suffers from what feels like a clunky choice of panel layout. This is still proof however that event tie-ins can feel relevant and maintain the consistency and drive of the core book. 8/10

NEW MUTANTS #44
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Jackson Guice , Kyle Baker & Elaine Lee
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: Legion returns for a done-in-one issue, possessed by the Jack Wayne persona and wreaking havoc on Muir Island with only the New Mutants standing in his way. It feels a bit fillerish, and to be honest wouldn’t have required too much tweaking to become an Uncanny X-Men issue of the same period, but the character interactions are finely-tuned enough to carry the reader through what ultimately proves to be an inconsequential adventure (in the grand scheme of things). Guice’s pencils combined with Baker’s inks is a look that really works for this book and it would be good to see them get a crack at several issues in a row to really establish themselves rather being bumped by guest artists repeatedly (but who knows if there were other factors that caused the lack of artistic continuity – there was no internet back then to churn the rumour mill!). 7/10

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