20 Oct 2013

Mini Reviews 20/10/2013

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.

LETTER 44 #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque & Guy Major
Oni Press $1.00

Matt C: What if the real reason George W. Bush pushed the US and its allies into a search for non-existent WMDs in Iraq was because he needed millions shovelled into weapons R & D and battle-hardened soldiers to prepare for what looked like an imminent alien invasion? And what if this was the first thing Obama learned when he took office? And that his predecessor had sent a group of astronauts to the asteroid belt to investigate what exactly was amassing there? Obviously we’re dealing with analogues in Letter 44, but it’s clear where the idea originated from, and what an idea it is! Soule’s smart blend of politics and sci-fi, where public perception of what’s going on is way off base, provides the basis for one hell of a captivating debut issue. Alburquerque captures the ominous tone well, particularly the expressions on the face of President-Elect, Stephen Blades, as he deals with the fact that everything he thought he knew about his job was a lie, a whole heap of responsibilities he wasn’t anticipating dumped onto his shoulders. The most impressive opening issue from Oni since The Sixth Gun and if I was a betting man I’d say this is one you want to back. 8/10

James R: In my day job, I have to teach Ethics, which is a subject I've always found fascinating. One of the things I repeatedly say to my students is "It's easy to speculate 'What if?' but you never know how you're going to act in a given situation until you find yourself in the midst of it." As I read this excellent first issue of Letter 44, I felt that this was an idea that Charles Soule understands perfectly. New President Stephen Blades finds himself with a morally compromising situation on his first day in office; on discovering that there is a potential extraterrestrial threat to Earth, should he let the world know, or should he remain silent? This is just the tip of the iceberg too - in this crammed issue, Soule manages to introduce the two plot strands brilliantly - both the political machinations of Blades and the Oval office, and the SF plot aboard the Clarke as it speeds toward the alien construction between Mars and Jupiter. The art from Alburquerque is tidy rather than spectacular - it will be interesting to see his take on alien life in subsequent issues. For a dollar, this is a book that you simply have to try, and it's certainly a welcome addition to my pull-list. A quality debut. 9/10

Stewart R:  Just what James and Matt said! Mystery, tension, intrigue, politics, ‘realistic’ science fiction, succinct dialogue, great art, great price, great start, great Book of the Week. 9/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: It’s back at last, and witnessing the Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth combo in action once again just re-emphasises how much Hawkeye is missed when it goes AWOL. But, while it is back, we’re not seeing the plot progressing much from the last few issues. In fact, we’re not seeing it progress at all, we’re just seeing events that have already occurred (pivoting around the death of a supporting character), this time from the perspective of the titular hero. This may sound pointless, repeatedly covering the same ground, but it’s done with such wit and style, and fits so neatly in with the previous issues (including the Annual) that it’s a joy to read,  and a moving one at that, perfectly demonstrating the way people’s lives intersect and the often unavoidable course changes that are the result. Still the jewel in Marvel’s crown. 8/10

James R: Yeah, by now you know the drill - great book you should all be reading it. But there's a couple of things that I wanted to flag up in this issue of Hawkeye. Firstly, it's amazing that it's a book that is only just a Marvel book in my eyes. Sure, this issue we get a flash of Clint's time with the Avengers, but this is a book that is building such a strong narrative, it doesn't need the wealth of iconic names and events that make up the Marvel U. Just as Matt Fraction hit us with the departure of Kate Bishop and the demise of Grills, he brings in Clint's brother Barney to bring a new dimension to the title to keep it fresh. The fact that the book introduces itself as 'A Clint Barton - Hawkeye - Comic Book' underlines that, here, character is far more important than endless pyrotechnics. Secondly, I'm thrilled to read that the book is now going to alternate issues between the West Coast life of Kate, and the established New York brilliance of Clint's adventures. There are laughably few strong female characters in mainstream comics, and it's a wise decision to make the book as much about Kate as it is about Clint. Class from first page to last once again. 8/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Stewart R: With Bruce’s grieving now dealt with as a main, spotlight focus it’s time for Tomasi to start stretching his creative arms once again and give his and Gleason’s vision of a New 52 Gotham a hug. Enter a new, slightly tweaked origin for Harvey Dent and his Two-Face alter ego, as well as a fresh, young face to the ranks of the crime families of Gotham who are all keen to be rid of all the psychos threatening their ill gotten livelihoods and that one bat-shaped shadow that they can’t ever seem to escape from. Once again I’m having to deal with events I’ve missed thanks to the stupid influence that Batman Inc has had on this and other books, but once past that small blip I really did enjoy how Tomasi introduces Erin McKillen. He makes her the focus of attentions from all corners and alters Harvey Dent’s history with her presence in the process to lead to a fairly recognisable point, but one where McKillen’s return to the Gotham underworld will bring all elements together in tumultuous fashion. From an artistic viewpoint it’s very much business as usual, that is to say pretty darn consistent from Gleason, Gray and Kalisz and the reinvented Two-Face origin is captured with all of the raw, intense brutality that I’ve come to expect from this accomplished team. 8/10

Writer: Brian Joines
Art: Bachan & Ruth Redmond
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Men In Black will likely oft be mentioned when it comes to the early days of this Imagine Agents miniseries and that comparison is not without merit; in a world where the imaginary friends of children under the age of 8 can live, cause chaos and plenty of property damage without being seen by unsuspecting adult eyes, the I.M.A.G.I.N.E. agents (I’ll let the book explain that acronym) seek to keep things in check and apprehend those entities that are too dangerous to run free. Jones delivers a heck of a lot in this first issue, setting up the bizarre world and introducing the main agent partnership we’ll be following as well as young Elliot, his imagined friend, Furdlegurr and the big bad in the shape of the dastardly Dapple. What’s particularly refreshing is that amongst the slapstick action - both Agent Snowgoose and Agent Slatern are on the end of comedic beat downs - is actually a pleasant note of sentimentality throughout, particularly as one long term ‘friend’ is forced to retire having been with one family for a particularly long time. It’s well written, the art from Bachan and Redmond takes an expectedly cartoon like line which works very well indeed and this is a fine start to yet another promising BOOM! title. 8/10

Writer: Ales Kot
Art: Tradd Moore & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: There's a part of me that always grimaces a little whenever Northern Ireland and the Troubles get used in comics, as I fear it's going to be a messy take on a complex and highly emotive issue. Reading the second issue of Zero, I realised that I shouldn't have worried as Ales Kot has talent to burn, and handles the subject matter with a deft touch. After being introduced to the adult Edward Zero in the first issue, we now flash back to his training and first mission. This chapter is beautifully illustrated by Tradd Moore and Jordie Bellaire, and as with Ellis' Global Frequency, it's really refreshing to get a different art team on every issue of the title. 2013 has been a real breakthrough year for Kot, and as much as I'm jealous of him for being that young and gifted, I'm even more enthralled by his talent and potential. Zero is now a firm favourite, and with each passing issue, it's moving further up my 'Best of' list for 2013. 8/10

Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, Mark Deering & Wil Quintana
DC $2.99

Stewart R: DC’s continued insistence to sit there, patiently weaving some giant convoluted tapestry with their titles so soon after the birth of the New 52 and particularly following the changing of the Lantern titles' creative guard is proving to be nearly too frustrating for words. This is the first New Guardians issue I’ve picked up in two months thanks to the eye-rolling nonsense of the ‘Villains month’ delay and because this is now a Lantern ‘event’ I walk straight into this third chapter of Lights Out pretty cold, realising that a hundred and one different things have occurred in other titles through the past 8 weeks to completely throw everything to the wind. Justin Jordan to his credit does a fine job of trying to patch the holes, keeping Kyle, Paalko and his blue brothers and sisters at the forefront of things and doing his best to keep the important events that transpire here exclusive to his cast alone. I certainly like the inclusion of the entities to highlight not only the severity of the situation, but also the potential within Kyle to be the greatest Lantern of all. My one criticism of Jordan’s tenure to date is that he’s only given one of the new Guardians a voice, with Paalko basically a reinvented Ganthet and the rest remain speechless time and time again when they’re important elements of this book. Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy and the rest of the artistic compliment on the other hand deserve no criticism in this reviewer's eyes, delivering a comic book with a busy, epic feel to it that probably deserves to be found in every chapter of this unfortunately timed event. 7/10

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

Matt C: The stakes are raised in this ‘pre-apocalyptic’ tale as it becomes increasingly clear that the children of Safe Haven don’t have the emotional or moral capacity to cope in an environment free from adult guidance. It’s a recurring concept in fiction, and that remains the case because it’s such a powerful and ultimately frightening one, reminding us that nature can still have a stronger influence than nurture on young minds. A series that is getting progressively darker and more shocking the further it goes along, and the darker it becomes the more irresistible it gets. 8/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Sara Pichelli, Valerio Schiti & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: …ahem, I’m still here with this one, despite a scathing review of #6 last month! There I was, citing Bendis’ focus on plot over character as the cause for my disdain and disappointment, and this month he goes a little way to making amends with a character and exposition heavy issue that, while admittedly giving much of the limelight to the newly arrived Angela, does allow for some of the Guardians to shine a little too. The modern culture references spewing from Peter and Tony’s mouths get close to grating on the nerves, but never actually push things too far, while Gamora’s untrusting and cold demeanour is handled nicely by Pichelli’s detailed and subtle expression work. Even Rocket’s Bendis-driven banter steers clear of the zone known as ‘annoying’ this month and though not a great deal actually happens in this issue it serves to highlight that this isn’t a group who go about everything in a gung-ho, guns blazing/fists a’flying fashion every month. The timing of this particular chapter is a touch on the poor side as it leaves things just as Infinity - an event now some three months into its run - is kicking off so who knows where things will lie when #8 comes out? However, this is a stronger effort from Bendis, and Pichelli can literally do no wrong so I’ll be back to see what’s what next time. 7/10

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