9 Feb 2014

Mini Reviews 09/02/2014

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.

MS. MARVEL #1
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The cynical part of me had this pegged as a tokenistic attempt at appealing to a certain section of the market, an appeasement to those who (rightly) bemoan the limited number of female-fronted mainstream books, especially ones that deviate away from the white-skinned, big-boobed norm. I really ought to learn not to be so damn cynical of course, but after seeing things of a similar nature occur over the years, optimism and trust can get worn down a little. So anyway, I’d unfairly dismissed this as ‘not my cup of tea’, but then the positive buzz grabbed my attention and caused a rethink. And yes, I was wrong to wave this one off because, even though to a certain degree it rehashes familiar genre tropes, it’s told in such a fresh and vital manner that it’s pretty much irresistible. Wilson brings these characters to life without any hint of condescension, elevating relatability over differences, allowing Alphona’s personable art to work its infectious magic. Yes, this is essentially an updated twist on the Peter Parker/Spider-Man template (alienated teen obtains special powers) but it’s done with real thought, a certain amount of grace and a whole lot of style. A mainstream book tackling a classic superhero origin story with an indie sensibility, Ms. Marvel #1 defiantly proves that Marvel are still prepared to take risks. 8/10

PUNISHER #1
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: From the writer/artist team behind the critically acclaimed Image series The Activity comes their latest book… The Activity? You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s the case during the opening pages as, in presumably intentional metatextual fashion, we get a scene that could easily have been lifted straight out of The Activity, suggesting we’re in for a different take on Frank Castle. Things get a little more familiar when Castle actually appears but there’s still a sense that this isn’t the Punisher we’re used to as – dare I say it – there’s actually a hint of lightness peeking through the violence he dishes out. In some ways, possibly due to the ‘realistic’ tone (bolstered by Gerad’s gritty, sizzling art), it almost feels like this would work better if it wasn’t a Punisher comic, and if the central character had no ties to a universe packed with superheroes, but I’m prepared to let things bed in as there’s definitely potential in the approach Edmondson and Gerads are taking with the character. The ending reveals a plotline that been seen before (with Ennis doing it most recently in his Punisher run) but it’s still a pretty solid start that gets enough right to lure me back for a second helping. 7/10

LAZARUS #6
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image $2.99

James R: Earlier this week, I was talking to one of my students (who is also a huge comics fan) and as we occasionally do, we compare notes on what we've been picking up. Both of us were in agreement that Lazarus is just superb. I commented to him that there is just nothing wrong with the book. Plot, character, premise, art - there's not a weak link anywhere. I continue to think that's the case after this latest top-notch issue, but my admiration has been augmented by Rucka's expansion of the dystopia of Forever Carlyle et al. Here, there's an increased focus on the struggling Barret family as they're forced to leave their Carlyle-owned property in a desperate search for a better life. Rucka handles this brilliantly, presenting the human need for survival in a raw and believable way. I genuinely do think that outside of the Big Two, we're currently in a golden age for comics, and it seems that every week there's a book that represents how far graphic storytelling has come. This week it's undoubtedly Lazarus, a book that is not only flawless, but – incredibly - seems to get stronger with every instalment. 9/10

Matt C: Rucka and Lark seem incapable of putting a foot wrong with this series. A brilliantly executed exercise in world-building, combining scarily prescient ideas with complex, enthralling characterizations, it has all the makings of a classic. This second arc sees Rucka expanding his focus to encompass select members of the population known as Waste, providing an insight into how they survive in this societal structure and the choices that abject poverty forces them to make. Meanwhile, following a revelatory text message, Forever begins to lurk in the shadows around the Carlyle properties, watching unseen the parts of the world she’s previously been shielded from. The realism Lark brings to the page enhances the plausibility of the unfolding drama, the detail of his illustrations matching the detail Rucka brings to his scripts, with Arcas’ colours successfully contrasting the sterile habitat of the Families with desolate environment the Waste reside in. Lazarus just keeps on rising. 9/10

SIDEKICK #5
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Tom Mandrake & HiFi
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The murder-mystery element of this superhero drama series has rolled along nicely in the background as Straczynski primarily focussed on the gradual dark fall and exploitation of Flyboy following his mentor’s evident demise. That descent has provided us with a protagonist who sits squarely in the pitied corner as we can appreciate his efforts to reset his life and deal with his grief, yet potentially despair at how easily he seems to be manipulated by other elements with their own agendas, failing at nearly every turn when seeking retribution. This time out we see Straczynski tie everything together as we learn more about Red Cowl’s deception and how that links so closely to his protégé’s doomed path towards insanity. We learn a lot in this issue about just how ‘grey’ Red Cowl’s ethics were and how far he cast his net of pain when trying to seemingly do a good thing with catastrophic and murderous cascading results. Tom Mandrake and HiFi’s art style is a little rough around the edges, yet in a consistently dark way which gives this title a distinct aesthetic which suits its view of the detestable side of this comic book world’s heroics. 7/10

TRILLIUM #6
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: I'm still loving this book. Jeff Lemire has certainly kept me on my toes as this story has unfolded in a highly unpredictable yet hugely inventive way. Rather than the standard love story I was expecting, I've really enjoyed Lemire's device wherein William and Nika have ended up living in each other's worlds, while everyone around them is unaware that reality has been fractured. Whereas the previous chapters have continued to surprise and innovate, this was the first issue where there's been a feeling of stasis. Our two protagonists work to try and find each other, and the location of the alien temple, and… that's pretty much it. Lemire also sticks with the book-flipping narrative trick, which initially I applauded, but by this issue I started to see it as a contrivance rather than an innovation that adds to the storytelling experience. Lemire's art remains wonderful, and as I've mentioned before, it's a joy to be observing his style slightly adapt and change over the years. So, this issue didn't change my opinion of an excellent book, but I'm hoping that Lemire has got another surprise in prospect next month. 7/10

APHRODITE IX #8
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Top Cow $2.99

Stewart R: Well, doesn’t this just get bigger and bigger?! If the desolate world of the Cyborgs and Gen wasn’t hostile enough - with another, huge conflict between the two sides lurking just beneath the horizon - Matt Hawkins has, over the course of this second arc (and much like several of his players on the actual page), been unlatching the airlocks on a further, juicy plotline that suggests Aphrodite's problems are only going to grow in size as the series continues. The mission of IX and XV to infiltrate the Cyborg capital and locate the rather unpleasant Richard Burch seems to be a simple, direct affair on paper, but I really did enjoy how Hawkins keeps things interesting and fresh with some clever, well thought out scripting that sells you a dummy or two as well as highlighting how expendable some seemingly high level characters can be in a comic book world where life is a very precious commodity. The sleight-of-hand that Hawkins opts for is carried out to perfection by Sejic who just drums home the fact that he’s one of the very best in the business month after month. 9/10

NEW AVENGERS #14
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Simone Bianchi & Adriano Dall'alpi
Marvel $3.99

James R: I never like to overly-criticize artists because a) I can't draw a stickman, and b) I've got the greatest respect for anyone who can make a living from artistic and creative per suits, but by the Great Googly Moogly, this is an ugly book! I'm not a big fan of Bianchi's work at the best of times (outside his work on Shining Knight for Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers Of Victory project I can't think of anything he's done that I've really enjoyed), and here his work really detracts from the narrative - there were points where it wasn't clear what was actually happening. It's also Hickman's weakest issue for me. Whereas his 'parallel worlds' riff is working spectacularly well in the main Avengers book, here it felt like a retread of issue #13. Ideally the whole issue would have focused on Doctor Strange's attempts to gain some nefarious leverage (and that's the best phrase I've written this week!) ahead of the inevitable incursion on Earth 616. All told, this was the least satisfying issue of the run to date - which isn't bad given the consistently high quality of the other 13 issues - but I'm hoping this is an anomaly rather than the start of a downward trend. 5/10

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