17 Nov 2013

Mini Reviews 17/11/2013

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.

MANIFEST DESTINY #1
Writer: Chris Dingess
Art: Matthew Roberts & Own Gieni
Image $2.99

Matt C: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this debut issue but it was another Image #1 - they’ve had a pretty good run recently, don’t you think? – and the concept was fairly arresting, even if it was a take on an episode in history I’m not overly familiar with. So, with this in mind, please forgive the hyperbole when I say I was fairly blown away by Manifest Destiny #1. A fictionalized account of Lewis and Clark’s famous ‘Corps of Discovery’ expedition (commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the untamed portion of the western United States) which posits that, far from the scientific fact-finding mission it was perceived by the public to be, in actuality it was put in motion to investigate rumours of ‘monsters’ lurking in the wilderness. The issue is held together by a tightly constructed, uncluttered script from Dingess that lays out the story with tremendous effectiveness, smart but never obtuse. Roberts’ art is fantastically detailed, immersive and full of emotion and slowburning excitement, its visual eloquence boosted by Gieni’s lively and lifelike colours. Populated by a fascinating cast of expendables and the potential for some fullblown pulp adventure, Manifest Destiny is one of the most impressive launches from Image during 2013, which, by default, makes it one the most impressive launches in the crowded market over the last 12 months. 10/10

James R: In his introduction at the back of this debut issue, writer Chris Dingess professes "This book is weird" and he's not wrong. I am never 100% sure about stories where real, historical events are significantly retooled for the sake of story (and I'm discounting Cap's involvement in WW2 here!) but as always with a debut issue, I was willing to see what the creative team could do with the tale of Lewis and Clark. I was impressed by a few elements here - Dingess sets up the series quickly and efficiently, while also rounding out his cast with some excellent rogues. I also liked Matthew Robert's pencils, which blended realism with the more fantastical elements hinted in the final pages. These days though, comics is not a hobby for the impecunious, and if I'm investing in a new series, it has to really grab me from the off. Charles Soule's Letter 44, for example, really managed that, but the premise here didn't grab me. There will be inevitably be more to come from this, but 'Lewis & Clark vs the Monsters'? After this issue, I'm not sure if it's my thing. A fine book, but not one to add to my pull-list. 6/10

UMBRAL #1
Writer: Antony Johnston
Art: Christopher Mitten, John Rauch & Thomas Mauer
Image $2.99

Matt C: It’s hard to assess a new addition to the fantasy genre without referring to certain more famous works in film and literature because they do kind of tower above everything else, such is their prevalence and influence in both the genre and popular culture as a whole. But I’m not going to do that here because the creativity on display is such that I want to judge it on its own terms rather than attempting to rank it against anything else. Umbral presents a brilliant example of world-building by creating a universe that feels immediately substantial with characters who clearly have mapped out histories beyond what we see here. It’s therefore easier to get invested in a tale that has many familiar elements – magic, thieves, demons – not only because it’s easy to engage with the cast but because it presents its environment in a vital, magnetic fashion, with Johnston keeping an adult tone to the language and Mitten providing the vibrant, wide-eyed visuals. Amazingly, yet another new title from Image with bundles of potential. 8/10

BATMAN #25
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki & Fco Plascencia
DC $4.99

James R: Another bumper-sized issue from the Batman A-team, and while I remain ambivalent about the need to reiterate Batman's origins again, I can't deny that this is a fine read for fans of the Dark Knight. The emphasis is certainly on the 'Dark' for this issue, as having dealt with the Red Hood in the last arc, Snyder turns his attention to redefining a whole slew of Gotham's rogues against the backdrop of a city-wide blackout orchestrated by the Riddler. As a dyed-in-the-wool Batfan, I have to say there's a huge amount of enjoyment from watching Snyder and Capullo working in such harmony here. Snyder's plotting is tight, keeping a lot of plates spinning, while also reintroducing Batman's historical first super-powered villain, Doctor Death. As you'd expect from the creative powerhouse behind American Vampire, Doctor Death is certainly a far creepier iteration who is illustrated with aplomb by Capullo. I have two minor grumbles. Firstly, it's the most unimaginative cover possible - a 'Dark' reprint of issue #21! And secondly, as much as I appreciate Snyder's retrofitting of the Batman mythos, the new Batmobile didn't work for me. That said, it's still a great book, and given the twist and cliffhanger Snyder leaves us with in this issue, I'm certainly looking forward to more 'Zero Year'. 8/10

DEADPOOL #19
Writers: Brian Posehn & Gerry Duggan
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: It’s not received the same attention as other, headline-grabbing series, but to me this is one of the clear successes of the Marvel NOW! initiative, in that it made me eagerly await each instalment of a title featuring a character I’d previously never had much time for. For the most part it’s been a deliciously deranged comic but this past arc, ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’, has been quite successful in adding depth to the character, proving he’s not all one-liners and lunacy but there’s a beating heart at his core (something Rick Remender worked into Uncanny X-Force too, so it's nice to see it's not been forgotten). Having Cap and Logan to bounce off the Merc with a Mouth has worked well, as has the more mature tone of Posehn and Duggan’s script along with some wonderfully expressive linework from Shalvey. Oh, and the beautiful, washed-out palette deployed by Bellaire, who seems to be colouring every other book I pick up these days (a busy lady!). A title that, rather quietly (comparatively speaking) delivers month after month, and this arc has been the best yet. 8/10

SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN #5
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Steve Lieber & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: If you’re looking for a Marvel book with a terrific comedic slant to it then you, in all seriousness, should be checking out Nick Spencer’s Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. I now get to the point where I get excited about the possibility of it showing up in my weekly haul as it has not yet failed to winch up the corners of my mouth into a beaming smile upon each reading. The idea of a five-person Sinister Six is still amusing and considering the amount of back-stabbing and in your face bickering that goes on you can never be sure if that number will reduce even further. In this issue we get to learn a little bit more about how mob boss The Owl runs his operation - according to Boomerang at any rate - and then witness the brilliantly bumbling attempts of this criminal crew to ransack said mob boss’s underground lair. The side schematic of the base by Lieber adds to the laughter as we see what horrendous task awaits the team, and then Spencer manages to go one further by highlighting what a lucky son of a gun Boomerang is at the panicked expense of his team mates. Follow all that up with yet another brilliant twist of fortune that ties back into the work of previous chapters and we’ll be in for another fine read next month. All the buzz this week has been about the potential of a Daredevil or Luke Cage TV series, but in all honesty, this sort of storytelling would be a perfect fit for the small screen. 9/10

THE BOUNCE #7
Writer: Joe Casey
Art: David Messina & Giovanna Niro
Image Comics $2.99

James R: I'm well aware that of late, the Big Two's books have left me a little jaded. Whereas I can't fault the talent involved, I feel that having read mainstream books on-and-off for 30 years (cripes!) I am really starting to feel 'I've seen this before...' more and more while leafing through my pull-list. So that's why I'm currently so thankful to Joe Casey, who is doing a magnificent job of grabbing my interest and keeping me engrossed in his two skewed superhero sagas, Sex and The Bounce. The Bounce is arguably the more conventional book, but that's not to say it's a flimsy read. In seven issues Casey has created and populated a world around the notion of discovering a super-powered parallel dimension to ours, and as the mystery unfolds we learn more about the histories of the cast. The more eagle-eyed of you may note that there’s similarity in this structure to that of Watchmen, and I think that's a fair comparison. Whereas I don't think The Bounce is that magnum opus' equal, it's clearly been crafted by two men who have the same love and understanding of comics that Moore and Gibbons do. Casey's plot finds the right balance between mystery and revelation, while Messina's art captures the tone of a 'real' world injected with the super-powered perfectly. If you're still a bright-eyed fan of superhero books, or a jaded veteran, there's something for everyone here. Long may Casey's great run continue! 9/10

DEATHMATCH #11
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carlos Magno & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Finally the curtain is pulled back and all has been revealed. We now know about the events that led to all of these Supes, Fears and Neuts being held captive and being forced to fight to their last breath against each other and Paul Jenkins should be applauded for managing to tie everything together so well and leave a little something at the end to keep the readers guessing. There’s plenty of paradox science and exposition in this issue as The Manchurian manages to explain all that has been and all that will be unless the Anti-Meridian can be stopped, and I love the idea that Jenkins is playing with here and doing so in accomplished fashion. Having got to know these characters gradually over the course of the series it’s a pleasant surprise to get to see them in action, or see important moments of their lives before the Deathmatch, and have it form an integral part of The Manchurian’s plan. Magno once again puts in a sterling effort, shifting back and forth between the battle and the details of the delicate plan that all combatants were a part of in order to reach this precarious point. He has such a subtle touch with his expression work so that even characters with masks or indistinct facial features have been able to emote so effectively which has truly enhanced the palpable sense of tension that has sat at the heart of this book from day one. 8/10

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