8 Sept 2013

Mini Reviews 08/09/2013

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.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman & Mike Costa
Art: Di Amorim & Juanmar
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: Anything with Jonathan Hickman’s name on it is unquestionably worth a look but the man’s not infallible and some of his projects are more successful, creatively speaking, than others. The premise of ancient gods returning to Earth to lay down the law (or at least, their own archaic, extreme version of it) was quite appealing but nothing in this debut issue convinced me this approach was the way to go. Having the likes of Odin and Zeus wandering around in the Marvel Universe kind of works because there’s a bit of a disconnect at play and you’re already dealing with a place where people dress up in spandex to punch each others lights out. Here things are taken much more seriously, but there’s an inherent campness that greatly undermines things, especially when you take into account artist Amorim’s over-the-top depiction of these all-powerful beings as practically piles of muscles on legs. Being Avatar, you know the sex and violence quota will be amped up considerably, and there’s more gore and naked flesh than we’re used to seeing in a Hickman comic, but it just comes off as sensationalist sheen that adds little to the story. Mike Costa’s credited as co-writer, and in these instances it’s never entirely clear who’s got their hands more firmly on the steering wheel, but while there’s an obvious level of intelligence at work I expected Hickman to be a lot more challenging than he is here. Sadly it’s a bit dull and while there are elements that have some potential if expanded on, overall I’m not prepared to pay $3.99 on any further issues to find out. 5/10

James R: Given Jonathan Hickman's current form (effortlessly masterminding Avengers and East Of West - two of the PCG's favourite books at the moment) I couldn't wait to see how his obvious intellect dealt with some huge theological concepts. Sadly, this is one that's gone down in the 'Miss' column for me. The Pantheon of Ancient Gods have returned and decided to reclaim the Earth. It's a fascinating idea, but there's little evidence of Hickman's sophistication here. The book was Hickman's original idea before being rewritten by Costa, and there is a disconnect between the two writers. Firstly, the choice of Gods seems fairly arbitrary - Hickman originally saw the book as 'All the mythological Gods... returned to Earth" but part of the group we're shown here are the Hindu Trimurti, who aren't really the redundant figures the other four deities are, and this gave the book a random feel rather than one which was the product of research and scholarship. Then there's the conceit that science has been outlawed, and that the counter-revolutionaries of reason and logic now make up an underground resistance - it just seemed a little clumsy to me. In short, it's a case of 'Not what I was expecting'. There may be more subtlety later in the run, but seeing that this is an Avatar book I'm not holding out a lot of hope. 4/10

HIT #1
Writer: Bryce Carlson
Art: Vanesa R. Del Rey & Archie Van Buren
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Hardboiled noir fiction is a genre that rarely offers anything new these days but for fans it’s the way the familiar are elements are combined, and how they’re delivered, that makes these stories – when done well – so appealing. The debut issue of this four-part series centres around one of the alleged ‘hit squads’, groups of cops who roamed the streets of LA in the mid-20th century permanently dealing with the crooks that continued to evade the judicial system. The central character is one of these cops, whose life starts to get ‘complicated’ following a series of unfortunate events and an encounter with the requisite femme fatale. The smoky, amoral attitude that permeates through Carlson’s script manifests itself brilliantly in Del Rey and Van Buren’s shadowy, neon-lit artwork. It’s not telling us anything we don’t already know but the style and execution of Hit means people who love this kind of tale will be more than happy to hear it all again. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: After last month’s sensational and innovative opening chapter this issue is far more conventional in the telling, but it's no less brilliant in the execution. The main body of the comic focuses on William and Nika's attempts to communicate with each other, with a common tongue separated by centuries of evolution. Lemire make this obvious difficulty a fascinating exchange, with the reader's focus constantly shifting between the languages of the two protagonists. After this we're shown how the potential survival of humanity in 3797 may be found in the land surrounding the mysterious temple... before Nika is pulled back to the future. As he proved time and again with Sweet Tooth, Lemire knows how to write a great cliffhanger that always moves the plot forward, leaving the reader wanting more. He does it again here, the final page capping a great read that was the clear winner for me this week. Whatever madness is currently gripping DC editorial, it's refreshing to see that it's still allowing Vertigo to be the home of some brilliant books, and giving their creators the free reign to produce such fine art. 9/10

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

Matt C: With each issue I become more convinced that Brisson and co. are onto something here. Although at first glance there seems to be limits as to where they can take this tale, the more you look at it the more apparent it becomes that there are numerous avenues to be explored and plenty of insights into the effects a survivalist mentality can have on society (which we’re seeing on a micro level at present). This instalment gallops along at a breakneck pace, intensely rendered by Jonnie Christmas, and leaves you with a feeling that it’s finished before it’s barely begun. That’s not a criticism as I wanted to dive into the next chapter straight away, and serialized fiction that provokes that kind of response is probably one of the main reasons many of us got hooked on comics in the first place. It’s still not too late to catch up on Sheltered, especially if it means you avoid having to kick yourself in a year’s time for letting it pass you by. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Howard Chaykin
Image Comics $3.50

James R: It took three issues but I'm now really enjoying Satellite Sam. I appreciate the political aspect of the plot, highlighted in issue #2, but here the story turns to the murder of Carlyle White, and it really steps up a gear. We've mentioned here that the book has a Mad Men feel to it, but in this issue I was reminded of the hardboiled writing of James Ellroy - a cast of characters embroiled in vices that put them on a self-destructive path that the reader can't help but be drawn into. The narrative unfolds with consummate skill from Fraction, who sheds more light on the pasts of Carlyle and Michael White, while suggesting yet more mystery in the life of the latter. In an industry that routinely portrays female characters as either second-class characters or glorified models, it's great to read a title that portrays eroticism and desire as something darker and deadly (and in this way it's got something in common with another Image title, Joe Casey's excellent Sex). Now this comic has built up some forward momentum, I'm really looking forward to seeing what tenebrous avenues it drives down. 8/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Caanan White, Keith Williams & Michael Dipascale
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: Most of my PCG colleagues bailed on this after the debut issue but I felt there was enough there to warrant sticking around for the first arc at the very least. Now, having reached the end of that first arc, while I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand I’m not convinced enough to proceed any further. I will say what Gillen is doing here displays an enormous amount of ambition, writing an alternate history that imagines the appearance of super beings extending the Second World War, and I will also say there are plenty of impressive ideas being utilized that show the level of research undertaken to get to this stage. There are problems though. Firstly, there’s pretty much a complete absence of likeable characters, and while that doesn’t always have to be a major issue, here it’s very difficult to engage with anyone let alone care about what happens to them. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from my perspective, the art is too explicitly in the ‘Avatar style’, and relies on garishly illustrated and coloured displays of exploded viscera which, although it’s sort of unavoidable when dealing with a tale set in wartime, means there’s a lack of subtlety that diminishes what’s being said in script. A more realistic and cautious visual aesthetic may have sold me more on the enterprise as an ongoing concern, but I guess Avatar have their own aesthetic that they stick to, and something like Uber isn’t going to buck the trend. That’s fine but I can’t help thinking this would have been more convincing with a more appropriate art team on hand. 6/10

Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: Chris Claremont
Art: Jackson Guice, Kyle Baker & Glynis Oliver
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: And sometimes Claremont dropped an absolute emotional bomb like this. It happened every now and then, but not often enough that it didn’t catch you off guard when he did it. This is essentially another filler issue as the mutant teens (Kitty Pryde in tow) find themselves invited to another local school’s ‘Spring Mixer’ where they get to mingle with folks their own age with mixed results. There they encounter a young lad named Larry who, unbeknownst to them, is also in possession of abilities that differentiate him from regular homo sapiens, but unable to articulate this for fear of rejection and being further alienated, attempting to fit in to avoid the persistent bullying as best he can. Feeling alone and unwanted in those formative teenage years can sometimes result in tragic consequences and Claremont handles things with both restraint and understanding. It’s a scenario not far removed from stories that have been seen in the UK press of late proving that some things, sadly, never change. Powerful stuff. 9/10

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