12 Jan 2014

Mini Reviews 12/01/2014

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.

Writers: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer
Art: Stefano Caselli & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The Infinity event and Hickman’s universe-building-whilst-destroying work in the pages of Avengers was one of the great successes of 2013. With the rippling waves of the intergalactic war and Thanos’ invasion still being felt around the globe it seems that the Avengers are needed more than ever to right a dangerously listing ship in the shape of their home planet. Hickman and Spencer highlight this particularly well in this first issue by splitting the team up in order to tackle a plethora of emerging and evolving threats. Hickman’s shown a knack for nailing such multi-threaded issues in the past - Secret Warriors was a fine example - and it helps to make this feel like the ‘big’ book that its title promises. The dangers are varied; derivatives of previous work and long term antagonists whilst some new mysteries raise their heads. While I can’t complain about the plot, and Stefano Caselli’s artwork is up to his usual standard, I’m still bugged by the scripting which sees long term acquaintances Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner referring to each other as Captain and Doctor when such formality seems REALLY out of place except for the new live action movie world. Even Cap referring to Maria Hill initially as Director seemed forced. This is not that cinematic iteration so it just jars that the writers - with possible editorial and ownership elbows placed in their backs - have gone down such a route. Small splash of negativity in what looks to begin with to be a good sized pond of quality. 8/10

Matt C: The question you’ve probably asked before reading this book is, “Do we need another Avengers title?” and unfortunately Avengers World fails to answer this in the affirmative. It’s not bad – it has a Global Frequency thing going on that fans of that book may appreciate – but it immediately doesn’t feel as weighty as either Avengers or New Avengers. There are some nods and links to past Marvel work from Hickman, and I’m not sure if it’s purely Caselli’s art that brings Secret Warriors to mind more than anything, or if it’s just the general vibe Hickman is seeking to recreate. I guess that’ll become more apparent as the series progresses, and while I’m willing to stick around for a while that’s more down to the writer’s work on his other Avengers books than this debut issue. 6/10

James R: Or; Jonathan Hickman's Avengers - Season 2. Even though this is a '#1', it's essentially a continuation of the stories and plots left dangling in the run-up to, and after, Infinity. However, in comparison to Hickman's last '#1' of Avengers, it's quite an underwhelming start - it feels less like a first chapter and more like an extended trailer. We're shown smaller Avengers teams on a number of different missions - Madripoor, the City of the Dead and the capital of the A.I.M empire all flash by as Cap stands around looking pensive at Maria Hill. To me, it's set up as a taster for what’s to come, but in comparison to 'Season 1' it feels a little generic. I'll certainly wait and see what Hickman and Spencer have in store, but three days after reading it, I had to go through it again for this review as I could barely remember a thing about it. For a blockbuster/flagship title I'd hope for a little more. And finally, what is up with John Cassaday? Bearing in mind this is the talent that produced some of the most beautiful and memorable comic art I've ever seen in the pages of Planetary, here he turns in a cover that's incredibly mediocre at best - Spider-Woman's worrying lack of neck, the Incredibly Reduced Hulk (I still vehemently dislike that armour) and Cap's shield (kid's costume version) - I hope this is a one-off and not the start of a trend. 6/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Phil Noto
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I feel kind of bad that I wasn’t as bowled over by this as I thought I would be, considering the various ingredients mixing together to make it happen. Edmondson can practically craft taut spy thrillers in his sleep, Noto’s art is looking better than ever, and this done-in-one tale packs a lot in, delivering action with a psychological underpinning as we get a glimpse of where Natasha’s head is at right now. And it’s pretty close to where the movie Black Widow’s head is at. The guilt and the atoning for past crimes seems to be front and centre here, and while I can see why Marvel are approaching things from this angle it’s not something I can see having much legs on a monthly basis. I may be being too harsh here though, and thinking about those ingredients perhaps I need to give this another read through before deciding whether or not to continue, because the first time around I wasn’t persuaded. 6/10

Stewart R: One of the ever-present female Marvel heroes in my comic collection through the past few years has been Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. Her presence through Brubaker’s late Captain America run and into Winter Soldier proved to be a brilliant and integral part of Bucky Barnes’ tortured story. Remender used her well in Secret Avengers and she’s been a popular and oft appearing face in the pages of other Avengers titles. So it’s with an ounce of unrestrained glee that she now gets her own series. Edmondson is getting a lot of praise these days for series he’s currently writing and even for being selected to write upcoming series for which he’s perfectly suited. Here it’s clear that he has a great grasp on what an audience will want from a Black Widow title, with the exciting blend of confident espionage, hand-to-hand combat and gunplay - delivered with a surprising, yet accomplished light hand from Noto - that we expect from a super-spy title wound thickly and tightly around a more personal and intimate story of a woman attempting to atone for the sins of her past or, ugh, clean the ‘red from her ledger’. Yes, as mentioned in my Avengers World review the roots of Marvel’s cinematic influence seem to be growing thicker and deeper into the heart of the comic medium and there’s an element that Natasha’s character work from the live action world is a major starting ingredient here, yet Edmondson’s writing is suitably subtle enough to ensure that it’s more of a question than a statement at this juncture. In another twist this debut carries itself pretty well as a one-shot with no obvious and defined plot for an arc visible at the culmination of the issue and that makes this stand out from the crowd even more. 9/10

Writer: Various
Art: Various
DC Comics $7.99

James R: 'SPECIAL MEGA-SIZED ANNIVERSARY ISSUE!' screams the cover in a way that only mainstream comics can. And Hell's teeth, for almost eight dollars it better had be something spectacular! As we've almost come to expect from DC these days, sadly it's not, and it seems to be Scott Snyder keeping the whole thing afloat. I'd be genuinely fascinated to see group editor Mike Mart's thoughts on how this comic got put together - did DC just throw the net out and say “Anyone interested in telling any old Batman story?” because until the end of the issue, the sense of deja vu is overpowering. Firstly Brad Meltzer tells us 'Batman's first adventure' (when we've just had Scott Snyder giving us the New 52 version of that over in Batman) and Mike Barr's Phantom Stranger story shows us that Bruce Wayne must be Batman - the world would be a far worse place without him. This would be fine… if we hadn't been given the same story in both Grant Morrison's run (the Final Crisis issues) and in Neil Gaiman's 'Whatever Happened to the Dark Knight?' We've also got tales from Neal Adams and Francesco Francavilla which are okay, but are both wholly unremarkable. I was also distinctly underwhelmed by John Layman's first part of 'Gothtopia’, which just served as a timely personal reminder that I was right to drop Detective from my pull-list. The only thing that makes this collection worthwhile is Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's dazzling 'Twenty-Seven' - partially inspired by Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100, this tale shows how Bruce Wayne secures his legacy and ties it to Gotham far into the future. It's a little bittersweet as the combination of Snyder and Murphy is so thrilling, it would be brilliant to see them bring their combined magic to Batman on a regular basis, but alas it's not to be. If the anniversary issue had been that story extended out and standing alone, it would have been an easy 9/10, as it is - weighed down by a lot of mediocrity- I can only award it 5/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Chip Zdarsky
Image $3.50

Matt C: The critical darling of the moment, judging by the number of ‘Best of the Year’ accolades it scooped up last month, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s using a selection of familiar genre tropes and combining them, mashing them up and remixing them, the end result being something we haven’t quite seen before. It’s funny, clever, very self-aware and unsurprisingly a little bit rude, but if you concentrate only on the more ‘salacious’ elements then you’re missing the point. The sex angle is a huge part of the narrative but just as important is its honest approach to how people use it in various ways, from connections with other individuals to the power it can wield over them, all wrapped up in a plot that stretches out beyond the protagonists into a larger world of weirdness. Providing you’re not easily offended then Sex Criminals is a series that shouldn’t be ignored. 8/10

Writers: Andy Lanning & Alan Cowsill
Art: Rich Elson & Antonio Fabela
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I felt compelled to give this a shot. I was never especially taken with the stuff that came out under the Marvel UK imprint a couple of decades ago but it’s hard not to throw some kind of support behind books featuring British superheroes. Shame that nothing much seems to have changed since the early ‘90s then. It’s a passable but instantly forgettable read, one that feels like a particularly formulaic relic from the last decade of the 20th Century. I wish I liked it more than I did, I wish I could furnish it with a glowing recomendation, but there’s nothing here to convince me that forking out for the other related books on the horizon is a good idea. 5/10

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

Matt C: We get properly introduced to a trio of characters seen briefly at the end of the last issue, and the trick here is making us get so wrapped up in their tale that we almost forget what is inevitably about to occur. It’s a testament to Brisson’s skill that he can remove his main cast for the majority of the issue and still have the reader invested in the unfolding events, and Christmas steps up to the plate when the shit hits the fan, turning the series down another unexpected path. One of the greatest things about Sheltered is that although you may be able to figure out how things will pan out in the short term, long term it’s impossible to say for sure where it’s headed, the constant escalation remaining surprising and exciting. As things continue to go from bad to worse it’s a marvel to watch how the creators find ingenious ways of sustaining the tension and stopping everything collapsing in on itself. 9/10

LETTER 44 #3
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque & Guy Major
Oni Press $3.99

James R: Despite a pretty uninspiring cover, this was easily the best thing I picked up this week. Once again, Charles Soule brings us a beguiling mix of SF and the political circus in Letter 44, and it's a tale that's being told in a confident and beautifully-paced narrative. This issue really fleshes out the characters of the Clarke's crew as they draw ever-closer to the mysterious alien presence, with Soule doing a fine job of documenting the weird dynamics between the strange (and literal!) bedfellows. Given their containment, extraordinary circumstances and seeming one-way mission, the crew have developed some very unique relationships, but these don't hinder the overall narrative in the slightest - for me, it enriches the story Soule is telling. The cover aside, Alburqurque's art seems to improve every issue, and I'm intrigued to see how he'll illustrate the alien presence when the Clarke finally makes first contact. This instalement ends with a proper - and highly unexpected - shock which suggests that there's due to be plenty more twists and turns to come. An ambitious and unique read, and that's two highly admirable qualities in modern comics. 8/10

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