30 Dec 2013

Mini Reviews 29/12/2013

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, or in this particular case thanks to the busy festive holiday period, two weeks! We like to encompass the good, the bad, and those titles that lie somewhere in between.

Writer: James Robinson
Art: J. Bone
Image $2.99

Matt C: It’s a very well-worn premise, the small town where the populace aren’t actually who they appear to be, but it can frequently tap into something primal, dealing with issues of trust and paranoia, which means it’s often worth revisiting for a new take on familiar tropes.  Advance publicity for this book suggests a twist to the usual alien-infiltration storyline, which could liven things up considerably down the line, but this debut issue doesn’t get into all that just yet, the focus being primarily on the protagonist, committed stoner Tomas Ramirez, and how he discovers something’s not quite right in his hometown, and how that discovery sends him on the run, pursued by something not of this world. Robinson’s characterization is spot on, Ramirez proving himself to be a likeable lead, and Bone’s sprightly, retro-infused art makes it a wonderful book to look at. Basically, what we’ve got here is yet another Image contender for a permanent slot on my pull-list! 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Matteo Scalera & Dean White
Image Comics $3.50

James R: Two issues, two masterclasses in comics storytelling. After setting out his stall in impressive fashion with Black Science's debut issue, Rick Remender keeps up the pace with this next chapter. Rather than focusing on Grant McKay once again, we're kept on our toes with a shocking event and a shift of narrative focus on to Ward, the security guard of the Anarchist Scientists. While Ward tries to keep the group alive in a hellish war-torn parallel universe, Remender also finds time to flash back and tell us more about the tense relationship between McKay, and his sponsor Kadir. It's an utterly breathless read, and it's increasingly clear that the relentless pace set in the first issue is going to be par for the course here. I absolutely love the art of Matteo Scalera twinned with colours of Dean White; the book has the feel of adult-orientated European comics that I only ever got a few stolen glances at in my youth, and it's all the better for that. This book feels like SF should to me, and whereas it turned up a little too late to be in our Paradoscars for 2013, I have a feeling that it will be jostling for position for best book of 2014. 9/10

Matt C: An impressive follow up to another winning debut issue from Image, Black Science #2 is a restless, breathless, mind-bending trip through a different alternate reality as our band of 'heroes' desperately search for a way back home, with peril facing them around every corner. As it rattles along at a breakneck pace, Remender broadens the scope of the narrative with the judicious deployment of flashbacks as well as bringing other members of the cast to fore, while the combination of Scalera’s intense visuals and White’s moody colour selections ensures this is an electrifying, compulsive read that shows no signs of losing its momentum. 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Steve McNiven, John Dell, Dexter Vines, Jay Leisten & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: While there are certain aspects of this Avengers book which do not sit as comfortably as perhaps they should - the fact that this is a team book, yet the united line-up has rarely been seen together is a niggle - there's something compelling about the doom-laden plot which Rick Remender has been carving out across time and the galaxies. I did enjoy the way that he neglects to dwell upon the shattering events of last issue, pushing the story ever onward and keeping us focussed on the bigger ideas and what these Avengers are fighting bitterly to avoid. The individual losses may (or may not?) be felt later on, but for now it's about the razor's edge upon which Captain America and company are battling. The scrap between Wasp, Thor and the ressurected Sentry is a highpoint (though the final blow is a questionable turn) with McNiven doing a fine job of showing that encounters constant pendulum swing of dominance, and while the inking varies in quality through this chapter, the penciller's work is notably consistent. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic & Various
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Marvel’s first offering under the ‘All-New Marvel NOW!’ banner sets a new story arc rolling for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but, unsurprisingly for Jonathan Hickman, it’s highly questionable whether it offers new readers the perfect jumping on point as there are plenty of existing plot threads feeding into this issue. So, newbies are probably better off picking up the trades while the rest of us get to marvel at how Hickman injects his ‘Big Ideas’ into the Avengers mythos with complete conviction, using the old staple of a guy coming back from the future with portents of doom to thrilling effect.  It misses out on top marks due to the sheer number of artists involved, which scuppers any kind of visual consistency despite the best efforts of everyone involved, but that aside this is title remains in the premier league of contemporary superhero comics. 8/10

Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick
Art: Emma Rios & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Pretty Deadly is one of those reads where you get to the last page and if you're lucky you'll perhaps understand and have caught 85-90% of what has transpired, and then dive back in from page one to see if you can't grab that elusive 10%! The creative combination of Kelly Sue Deconnick's knowing dialogue and whimsical exposition with Rios' bewildering visual style adds a misty level of mystery to the story, which is highly enthralling and mildly distracting. Of particular note this time out is that we get to see just how Fox became the scarred, blind protector of young Sissy and what his previous actions may have unleashed upon the world. It's becoming clearer as to how all of the separate threads we've been introduced to are connected and like so many other titles in Image's impressive canon, it's far less clear as to which character we should necessarily be routing for at this time. That aspect, combined with the unique creative synergy between writer and artist will ensure that Pretty Deadly is not a read for everyone, but if you can bear to wade in through the initial murk of the shallows, the clearer depths are making this an enjoyable fantasy western read. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Cully Hamner & Dave McCaig
DC $2.99

James R: Aw nuts. So, Jeff Lemire has decided to bring the curtain down on the latest incarnation of Animal Man, leaving us with just three issues to go. On one hand, I absolutely respect that as the driving force behind this book, it is his decision to pull the plug. He feels he has told the story he wanted to tell about the Baker family, but on the other hand, man - this issue is great stuff, and makes me sad to see the title end. After facing off with Brother Blood for the last few issues, Buddy is transported, Swamp Thing-stylee to an alien world, where he desperately fights for his life, and then finds that he is in line to be the new Caretaker of a world which has huge significance in the endless cycle of green and red in the DCU. It's a bold and innovative step, and when I got to the final page of this issue, I was struck with a very tangible sadness that we're not going to see Buddy really explore this role in Animal Man. Lemire has promised us that Buddy will return in Lemire's new Justice League book, but I fear that just won't be the same. I think Lemire is better with a smaller cast than a team book, and here's hoping it won't be long before he picks up the reigns on another singular title. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Garry Brown & Jordie Bellaire
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: Arguably the strongest arc of the series so far reaches its conclusion as Callum Israel confronts a foe who has accepted his past , allowing him to move forward into a post-Crash future. Israel, on the other hand, seems incapable of reaching that stage. While the rich, post-apocalyptic world Wood has conjured impresses with its detail, it would just feel like an academic exercise were it not for the flawed, fascinating characters that the writer deposits in the centre of his narrative, with Israel being, unsurprisingly, the most compelling of all. All though supposedly motivated by an altruistic desire to ‘make the world a better place’ he’s slowly been revealed as a mass of contradictions, a man struggling to live up to his own public persona, battling his demons the best he can in the time he has left. A smart read that avoids predictability, producing the perfect balance of action and thought-provoking storytelling. 8/10

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

Stewart R: As I sit here, scanning back through the pages of this final issue, I know that I'm lookling at an installment of what has easily been one of my top five miniseries of 2013. In just four issues Cates, Reznicek, Shaw and Affe have taken us through banter and sarcasm infused AA meetings, superhero sponsorship, difficult confession and acceptance of a troubled past, reveals of a soap operatic nature and led us to a finale that cuts this story open, showing the very raw truths involved with addiction and our human vices. The battle between father and son seems to be used as an example of the greying between nature vs nurture when it comes to the origin of addiction, and Francis' journey in this last stretch is one painted equally with hope and sombre reality. Shaw has done a damn fine job of illustrating this protagonist's story and shown himself to be an artist who can deliver visual comedy alongside moments of emotional heft which form the core of this last issue. Buzzkill has been a top read and is one to certainly check out when released in collected form. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

James R: I know that my reviews normally focus on the writers - I'm unashamedly more a story guy than an art guy, but just for once, I feel that special praise has to go to an art team. Hickman's alt-world SF-Western epic continues at pace this month, as we see stirrings of political protest in Washington, while Death continues to search for his son. It's the quality we've come to expect from Hickman, but in this issue the art team push the book to another level. Nick Dragotta's pencils beautifully handle a futuristic cityscape on one page, and capture the expressions of pure fear and rage on another. Frank Martin's colours are also a joy to behold, giving the different parts of the issue a distinct and tangible feeling. If you're not picking this book up already (and you really should be!) then this is one that will look glorious collected in an oversized trade. I was worried that Hickman couldn't keep up the focus and momentum on this book, but I'm delighted to be proved wrong; this is a title growing stronger with every issue. 9/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Adam Kubert & Frank Martin
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: There was a lot of hoopla surrounding the release of the first Origin series a decade or so ago but for this sequel, even taking into account the fancy cover and high production values, it feels like Marvel haven’t made as a big a deal as they could have done. Perhaps I’ve been looking in all the wrong places but to me at least, for a story that they no doubt hope will stay in print for a long time to come, surely Marvel would have brought this to everyone’s attention with all their marketing guns blazing. Having now read this debut issue, perhaps the reason for this ‘softer’ launch (and its inflated cover price) is that, at this stage, it’s not really screaming ‘essential purchase’. Like a mutated, feral Mowgli, Logan is living with a pack of wolves, learning that the natural order of the animal kingdom is just as unforgiving as the human world he’s left behind. It’s an okay read, it’s well illustrated, but overall it feels lacking, its rather predictable nature not really engendering much hope for further instalments. I’m not prepared to write it off, perhaps it’s more of a transitional episode, moving us from one chapter of Logan’s life to another, but personally I was looking for a lot more urgency on the page from the get go. 6/10

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