22 Sept 2013

Mini Reviews 22/09/2013

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: Ales Kot
Art: Michael Walsh & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: Every now and then you get a comic that comes out of nowhere and announces its arrival in phenomenal style. All praise the comics gods, because this week Zero did just this and it's yet another feather in the cap for Image. A few years ago, I adored Warren Ellis' Global Frequency, a comic that lept from location to location, delivering a self-contained tale every month, inevitably shot through with Ellis' interest in technology and futurism. Zero brilliantly uses a similar structure; writer Ales Kot has said that every issue will be a self-contained story. We're introduced to Edward Zero, a shadowy agency agent in his twilight years, who tells us about his life in flashback. The first issue has Zero trying to reclaim some bleeding edge cyborg technology from a flashpoint between the Israeli and Palestinian forces. Not a panel is wasted in this high-octane tale (the story runs across the inner covers - after months of that awful Audi Iron Man ads in Marvel books, this is a tremendous plus!). Michael Walsh’s art reminded me of David Aja's work, and it really suited the gritty and desperate feel of the book. Kot says that the series will build to a grander narrative end and I cannot wait to see where this all goes. Along with Trillium and Lazarus this is the book that's taken my breath away straight off the bat this year. If you like creativity, action and invention in your comics, you definitely need Zero. 10/10

Writers: Donny Cates & Mark Reznicek
Art: Geoff Shaw & Lauren Affe
Dark Horse $3.99

Stewart R: The concept behind Buzzkill is certainly an interesting one - an extremely powerful ‘hero’ derives his powers from getting drunk and taking drugs - and the look at the lack (and loss) of control coupled with the responsibility and ownership of devastating actions under the influence somehow feels genuinely fresh. Cates and Reznicek start things off slowly and a fair way into Ruben’s story as he enters a support group with the vaguest notion and inclination to kick his habits and in the same breath put his superpowered past behind him. The support group and sponsorship motif has certainly been used in the superhero genre before and here the writers utilise it to show us glimpses of Ruben’s dark history while he explains his problems in the modern day setting. The writing is tight and the storytelling from the pencil and inks of Shaw, along with some neat retro dot work from colourist Affe in the flashbacks, gives us everything we need to know about how Ruben came to be here and give us an idea on just how bad things may have gotten. Further mysteries involving Ruben’s enemies pique the interest for the next chapter and this is certainly a promising start. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

James R: Firstly, this book looks beautiful - it's always great to see the art of Opena and Weaver and this epic tale is the perfect fit for their skills. In terms of plot, Hickman continues to split the narrative between the Avenger's fight against the Builders and Thanos' search for his son on Earth. It's this latter plotline that's been the most rewarding for me - Hickman has a great handle on Black Bolt, and without spoiling it, he's responsible for one of the most jaw-dropping moments in mainstream comics this year. As comics have slowly established themselves in mainstream cinema, it looks like the process has been a two-way one. Infinity has the feel of a blockbuster in every way, and it's pure spectacle. If I have to be critical, it's a shame that Hickman's intelligence is taking a back seat here for big set pieces and explosions aplenty. However, that's just me nit-picking - the part of me that was bewitched by Secret Wars as a lad enjoyed every page of this, still Marvel's best event for a long time. 8/10

Writer: Jai Nitz
Writer: Greg Smallwood
Dark Horse $3.99

Matt C: After four riveting issues it all came down to this final instalment of the miniseries to confirm whether indeed it was the winner it appeared to be, so it’s sad to report the denouement turned out to be something of a disappointment. Not a throw-it-out-the-window kind of disappointment – far from it – but all the same, I was expecting something a lot more satisfying. It’s clear that this is intended as the first of many stories featuring John Lincoln, and I do believe that to be a good thing as he’s a compelling character being propelled through some arresting scenarios, but this issue gave off the impression that it was in rather a hurry to wrap up certain plot threads while leaving perhaps more than required dangling to tempt the reader back for more. Maybe another issue on top of this one would have been the right move to pace things a lot more smoothly? I’m still giving it an overall thumbs up – Nitz’s dialogue feels authentic, while Smallwood’s moody, evocative linework is perfectly suited to this milieu – and I’m fairly certain if another series does appear I’ll be back for more, but unfortunately after a great sprint through four enthralling chapters, Dream Thief stumbled as it reached the finish line. Still recommended, but now with added reservations. 6/10

Writer: Joe Casey
Art: David Messina
Image Comics $2.99

James R: In a month where the Big Two are dominated across the board by crossovers and gimmicks (did anyone really enjoy Villains Month?!) Joe Casey continues to show that you don't need a big event to make a stunning book - you just need good ideas. For the last four issues he’s channelled Spidey through Jasper Jenkins, and teased us with a parallel dimension, the Sauterne, the home to super-powered beings. Here we see more of the US government's attempts to access it, learn of a Superman analogue (Vainglorious Vox) who has made the reverse journey, and discover the past of the incredibly shady agent Darling. I was impressed at how many ideas Casey packs into a single issue, while simultaneously keeping the plot focused and moving forward. In the back pages of Sex, Casey has commented that he wants to help 'scratch the itch' for wild and heroic action stories while adding a level of literacy and intelligence. In The Bounce, he's doing that with aplomb. 9/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Image/Top Cow $2.99

Matt C: This is a great comic. On the one hand that’s a surprise as gun-wielding-chick fronted comic book sci-fi, the kind of thing that was really prevalent during in the mid-‘90s, was always a bit of a turn-off for me as I generally saw it as appealing to the baser instincts of fanboys. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be such a surprise as writer Matt Hawkin’s has done such an amazing, enthralling job on Think Tank, why wouldn’t he bring the same level of storytelling verve to Aphrodite IX? In other hands it might have turned out as generic pap but Hawkins elevates some familiar tropes into something intelligent, inventive and invigorating. But that’s not all. You know those books that start slipping back in the schedules and the scuttlebutt is that that artist can’t meet his/her deadlines? Well check out what Stjepan Sejic produces on a monthly basis: beautifully composed, photorealistic art that seems to burst from the page with vibrancy and dynamism. Okay, so perhaps he had several of these in the can prior to publication, hence the regular scheduling, but even so I would gladly wait a little longer for something of this quality. Place your preconceptions to one side and let this smart, thrilling slice of sci-fi win you over on its own terms. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: You may have noticed that we’re only weeks away from the second Thor movie reaching the cinema, and that said movie features Malekith the Accursed as the main villain, so you’ll probably not too surprised to see that character rear his head – entirely coincidently, obviously – in the current Thor comic. It doesn’t for a minute feel forced though because Aaron is clearly comfortable in this environment now and he’s turned this into a mostly excellent, sometimes exceptional series. What I felt needed particular highlighting this issue, as it was the issue it became readily apparent how much he’s bringing to the table, is the colouring by Ive Svorcina. Ron Garney takes up artistic chores for this arc, and he’s unquestionably a brilliant illustrator, but his style’s quite far removed from Esad Ribic’s, so I guess if you’re looking for someone to take credit for keeping a consistent visual aesthetic going, it’s got to be Scorcina. I’ve seen a lot of comics with Garney’s work in over the years, but I don’t recall it looking quite like this, so it seems that Svorcina's palette choice just adds something to the finished product that makes it look more mythical, if that makes sense. So, yeah, it’s a great book, one of Marvel’s current best, but let’s take a moment to give it up for Svorcina (and let’s be honest, colourist’s are often overlooked, and I’m as guilty of that as anyone!) because he’s taking one of Marvel’s best and making it look even better, and for a visual medium that’s an undeniably essential skill. 8/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Marte Gracia
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Talking heads, talking heads, time travel, debate, posturing, talking heads, talking head, RUDDY TALKING HEADS. Bendis’ pet project of bringing the original X-Men to the ‘present’ got my goat when All-New X-Men launched and now that this Battle Of The Atom event has crept its annoying way into nearly every important X-title it’s causing me to witness nothing but page after page of mind-numbingly stupid debate about the current situation and whether young Jean Grey, Scott Summers et al should return to their own timeline. From what I can gather this simply does not change from chapter to chapter (though Brian Wood did his best to keep his X-Men book on track through the distraction). The face-punchingly stupid concept behind this event aside, I have to say that Bendis manages to somehow sidestep some of the character work he’d been doing with these Uncanny X-Men in favour of going big, brash and one-note with several of the cast for the sake of ‘the event’. Emma Frost suddenly becomes super confrontational with a Jean Grey that she doesn’t even technically know while Cyclops continues along his standard ‘let’s help them’ routine which makes next to no sense in his particular personal journey considering the damage he’s trying to fix from holding the Phoenix Force - is he likely to endanger the world and mutantkind’s future with a huge temporal paradox? Un-bloody-likely! So the writing is a bit of a mess and plods along, which in turn doesn’t seem to help the usually premium grade and consistent Bachalo who seems to struggle with little to do outside of flipping the camera between characters who have nothing particularly new to bring to the argument that is going in ever frustrating circles. This event really can’t be done with soon enough and to be honest Uncanny X-Men was starting to struggle before its interjection bumbled into view. 3/10

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

Matt C: The Magus chases the teen mutants across dimensions and through time (via methods that aren’t made entirely clear) in a bid to battle his son, Warlock, as required by the traditions of their species, resulting in a somewhat ridiculous excursion to Scotland 700 years ago where they cross paths with Robert the Bruce! It’s another one of those issues that feels like it’s a bit all over the place, just about saved by Claremont’s confidence in writing these characters along with some impressively composed work from the Guice/Baker combo. Not one of the better instalments of the series though. 6/10

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