16 Dec 2013

Mini Reviews 15/12/2013

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.

DEATHMATCH #12
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carlos Magno & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: And so it all comes this conclusion and my stars, isn’t it all a convoluted and intricate affair! To some degree Jenkins had no choice but to leave the lion’s share of the exposition to the grand finale, as the ‘magician’ behind the Deathmatch and its workings pulls back the veil of secrecy and reveals the terrible truth behind this very last fight to the end. It’s a dialogue and idea-heavy issue and I dare say it could well leave many scratching their heads for a little while. I’ve read the issue twice through now and am still not 100% sure what the endgame scenario actually leads to - I’ve an idea, but can’t tell if it definitely ends in a full stop or possibly a question mark - yet it’s an ending nonetheless and one with a message about the nature of heroism, what it means and how liquid it can be within the churning wheels of a grander scheme. When you get to this conclusive point you realise how well Jenkins put together the plot and the cast to ensure that those left at this bitter juncture were there to squeeze every ounce of hope, drama and intelligent mystery out of this series. While I have my suspicions that this is the last we may see of this comic book universe, I truly do hope that Jenkins and Magno reunite one day soon to bring us more from what has proven to be a brilliantly imagined and delivered reading experience. 8/10

MANIFEST DESTINY #2
Writer: Chris Dingess
Art: Matthew Roberts & Own Gieni
Image $2.99

Matt C: The first issue wasn’t a fluke then. Lewis and Clark continue to make surprising and startling discoveries, the kind that put them and their crew in immediate danger, and the friction that generates is palpable. The great thing about Manifest Destiny is that the reader has as much idea as the protagonists about what lies ahead – we really are venturing into the undiscovered country together. The characterisation is very strong and well defined, and the artistry on display is evocative, full of the kind of detail that assists the script in generating the requisite amount of excitement. It’s a much ‘faster’ read than the debut instalment but it still packs a lot in, once again leaving us with a tantalising – and unexpected – cliffhanger. One of the most impressive new series to appear in 2013 and it’s still not too late to get in on the ground floor. 9/10

LAZARUS #5
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image $2.99

James R: This book started out as the one to watch in 2013, and it's now quickly establishing itself as the one you just shouldn't miss. With every passing issue the story of Forever Carlyle becomes richer and more byzantine. This month, Rucka lifts the veil on Forever's training and upbringing while simultaneously telling us more about the status quo that exists between the powerful families that now run America. I know we've said it often of high-quality titles, but this really does read like a top-draw TV show. It's got the political machinations of Game of Thrones mixed with an incredibly convincing dystopia, all wrapped up in a a tale of mystery and conspiracy and it's an incredibly involving read. Both Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are absolutely on the top of their respective games here, and this was easily the best thing I read this week. Oh, and *flashes another look at the Big Two* 28 ad-free pages for $2.99! There's nothing about this title I don't love. Long live Lazarus. 9/10

ALEX + ADA #2
Writer: Sarah Vaughan & Jonathan Luna
Art: Jonathan Luna
Image $2.99

Stewart R: It’s clear that this series about artificial intelligence, ‘real’ emotion and the fragility and uncertainty of the human heart is not going to barrel along at a hundred miles an hour. Two issues in and I’d say that other creative pairings tackling such a plot may have reached the point we have here by the end of the first issue and the pace and simple aesthetic might put some readers off. But that right there is the attractive and rather surprising hook for me. Vaughan and Luna will deliver a page filled with a deluge of back-and-forth dialogue with subtle and awkward interaction and then slow things down with a couple of pages simply showing the passage of time as Alex’s confusing, uncomfortable day turns to night and back again. Each time we learn a little more about Alex and can see him wrestle with decisions on a regular basis. We get to see him waiver on his stance on technology, androids and what he really needs in his life and the creators really get that balance spot on as we witness him second guessing himself time and again. Luna’s use of repetition in panel structure helps to maintain the steady rhythm of plot and details the subtle shift in expression and mood in reaction to the simplest of comments. Combine that with his muted palette use and this book really does have a standout look of its own. 8/10

DEAD BODY ROAD #1
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Matteo Scalera & Moreno Dinisio
Image / Skybound $2.99

Stewart R: With a creative combination such as this I’d hope for something a bit special and there’s no doubting that Dead Body Road’s debut is dripping in style. Matteo Scalera shifts from the superheroics that I’m used to seeing him deliver on a regular basis to something far smoother and edgier with relative ease. His dynamism when it comes to frenetic action remains and his panel composition really gives this book a cinematic feel to it. Jordan’s script definitely adds to that Hollywood thriller vibe with a protagonist out for revenge, a guy on the run due to getting in too deep with the wrong crowd and the intriguing ‘nasty piece of work’ professional pursuing his own leads that will more than likely end in an explosive coming together down the line. While I’ll admit that the plotting here doesn’t seem particularly original, it’s finely produced and has certainly got me locked in for the continuing carnage. 8/10

Matt C: There’s nothing that could truthfully fit the definition of ‘original’ in Dead Body Road #1, no left turns that take the reader in unexpected directions. If you’re well-versed with tales of hardboiled revenge in any medium then the way things play out here will seem very familiar to you, but as I’ve said many times before, and will no doubt say again, in cases like these it’s all down to the telling of the tale rather than what genre the tale may slot into. The reason I’m drawn to stories like this – and I’m sure this applies to others – is because they’re so primal in their motivations that, when done well, they tap into something that lies deep within most people. The core idea of the vigilante is someone taking the law into their own hands to right wrongs (usually due to a personal connection) because they genuinely believe that the officially appointed legal authorities are incapable of serving justice in certain situations. Stepping outside the crime genre, that’s essentially the central factor of the superhero paradigm, so if you reading this I’m not really taking a wild guess by saying that you get it. If the storytellers can spin their tale with realistic intensity that burns through the pages then it doesn’t matter how familiar it may be, it’s an utterly compelling, irresistible concept. Jordon and Scalera (who offers a tonally different visual aesthetic to his work on Black Science) nailed it here, gripping me from first page to last. I’m a sucker for a great crime story and this is clearly shaping up to be a great crime story. 8/10

BATMAN #26
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo & Danny Miki
DC Comics $3.99

James R: I try not to read reviews ahead of writing my own for fear that I'll get swayed, or end up unconsciously writing a carbon copy. However, I did see a review of this issue of Batman that absolutely flipped out over it. As I read the issue, I tried to figure out what I was missing, as rather than a great leap forward, or a sudden escalation in the book, this was just another quality instalment of Batman. I've dropped my reticence over the whole Zero Year thing, and I'm now just going with it. Snyder and Capullo bring us the next chapter in the Dark Knight's new origin, and they add some nice new layers to the mythos. Jim Gordon is portrayed as a man with a more suspicious past than we've ever seen and this establishes an excellent tension between him and Bruce Wayne (and I like that Snyder is writing him as a man still raw with emotion over his parent's death.) It's not a radical reinvention, it's just a well-crafted comic and the standard we've come to expect from this creative team. I'd be interested to find out if the whole Zero Year thing was Snyder's idea or DC editorial's, but either way it remains one of the remaining DC books I get without hesitation. 7/10

INHUMANITY: AWAKENING #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Paul Davidson & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: With Marvel’s X-Men and mutants being born out of the 1960s and being a reflection or representation of the everyday societal pressures on minorities of the day, it’s easy to see how, in Inhumanity: Awakening #1 a similar idea is being applied to the newly emerging Inhuman populace, yet done so with a distinctly 21st Century slant to proceedings. Arguably there is no better comic scribe for utilising multiple storytelling methods within one book than Matt Kindt, a writer who has proven with series such as Mind MGMT that he can tackle a story head on and frame the journey with separate threads that build the world view by playing with the medium as the main thrust progresses. Here he utilises a social media conversation between two individuals, commenting in real time about the ongoing events that are unfolding following Black Bolt’s unleashing of the Terrigen Mists and occasionally has them commenting directly about one transformed girl who gets some much needed help from some Avengers Academy and Jean Grey School pupils. As if that weren’t a neat trick enough, Kindt even has artist Davidson (X-Club, X-Men Legacy) relay part of the painful journey that Fiona has walked from her isolated ‘normal’ life through to painful transformation via an Instagram-like ‘selfie’ point of view that speaks volumes about the state of social media at this time. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking method, but one that I’m afraid gets a little too distracting from time to time here; it doesn’t break the fourth wall, but almost feels as if it does for some strange reason and ultimately interrupts the flow more often than it contributes to it. A promising read that’s bent rather than broken. 7/10

SATELLITE SAM #5
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Howard Chaykin
Image $3.50

Matt C: And this will (possibly) forever be known as the ‘blowjob issue’ as it seems like every major cast member (!) is fellating or being fellated. I’m no prude, so when I say I’m knocking this series from my pull-list it has absolutely nothing to do with the oral antics on display. Rather, it’s been meandering around since the beginning , largely not tackling what was pitched as the central plot of the series, the seedy murder of a television star during the fledgling days of the industry. I can see what Fraction’s trying to do, focusing on the characters rather than the plot to comment on the deep-seated repression and darker aspects of the era, but it feels disjointed as a result. Without a solid backbone to hold everything up, seeing a bunch of not particularly likeable fuck-ups doing their thing isn’t especially appealing.  I’ve always appreciated Chaykin’s style rather than ever going a bundle on it, and while initially it did seem a perfect fit for this particular type of story, it’s now reached a point where it was becoming a little difficult to figure out who the characters were without referring to the cast pictures on the first page of each issue. This series had a lot of potential but it’s past the stage where it needs to start making its point, or at least indicating what that point may be, and for that reason, I’m out. 5/10

INDESTRUCTIBLE #1
Writer: Jeff Kline
Art: Javi Garron, Salvi Garcia & Alejandro Sanchez
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: I picked this up on something of a whim having simply checked out the blurb when conjuring my On The Pull piece earlier in the week and I’m going to say it was worth the punt. Kline introduces us to Greg, the ‘hero’ of the story, via a family meal at a Los Angeles restaurant and rather than give us too many details about Greg himself (we later find out that he’s a writer/fact checker and that’s about it) we get some insight into his dating life and also how superheroes in this world live a celebrity existence. From there it’s a twisted and rather amusing turn of events that leads Greg on a path to unbelievable hero status, whether truly deserved or not. Kline seems to be commenting on the speed and power of fame and the desire of others to bask in the glow of those who have found it, regardless of whether it’s justified or why it has arisen. Greg is brilliantly clueless, now a helpless passenger on this rollercoaster and Garron and Garcia do a fine job of capturing his bemused and bewildered expressions. It’s clear at this early stage that there’s plenty of fun to come and I’m already mentally saving that $3.99 for #2. 8/10

THE SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN #6
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Steve Lieber & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: In order to write this review I’ve just turned back to the first page of panels in this current issue and I’m still chuckling at what Spencer and Lieber come up with here. All that’s depicted is Fred going on a date to a baseball game, but it’s the fact that on top of being a villain in his alter ego he’s also a despised, washed up baseball player in his normal life who can’t turn up to a stadium without having to take special measures in order to spectate just nine innings. Fred is an idiot. He’s a criminal and a liar and he’s going to get what’s coming to him. In that respect he’s like the other hopeless members of the Sinister Six of which he’s the despicable team leader, but you know what; he and the rest of the cast are likable for those specific reasons. Spencer comes up with mouth-achingly funny scripts time and time again - the origin of the infamous Doctor Doom painting being the highlight this time around - and Lieber just doesn’t stop hitting those perfectly timed visual moments that are oh so simple and oh so accomplished. Honestly people, this is one of the best three dollar purchases on the shelves each and every month. 9/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #39
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Pepe Larraz, Matt Milla & Pete Pantazis
Marvel  $3.99

James R: I have unashamedly loved this series. Initially, I thought 'Gah, shoehorning Wolverine into another X-book…?' But my trust in Jason Aaron paid off, and for a vast majority of the run (I'm pretending I can't see the 'Murder Circus' arc from here) this offbeat, funny and wise book has been Marvel's best X-Men title. As I read this issue though, I did feel for the first time that maybe, just maybe, ending on issue 42 will be the right thing to do. This was a fine read, but there was a degree of 'going through the motions' to be seen here - take the two pages where a spy sent into the school gives a character breakdown of the pupils - I just thought "Yep, I think I know this stuff now." I'm also not sold on the story of Cyclops and Wolverine forced to work together to face the Sentinels - once again, I thought "Yep, you hate each other. I get it!" Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed reading the book, but this was the first time there wasn't something surprising or inventive for me. Let's hope the last three issues see this series sign off on the high note it deserves. 7/10

No comments: