16 Feb 2014

Mini Reviews 16/02/2014

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.

WINTER SOLDIER: THE BITTER MARCH #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Roland Boschi & Chris Chuckry
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Perhaps the most evident indicator that this opening episode had me in its thrall was when the titular character appeared for the first time towards the end of the issue and I was surprised to see him. Up to that point I’d become so wrapped up in the adventures of Ran Shen and (to a lesser extent) Nick Fury that any thought that I was a reading a cash-in to tie into a forthcoming motion picture had long since left my noggin. Remender’s blatantly riffing on recognisable ‘60s spy tropes, Bond in particular, and he seems to be having a blast doing so, with Boschi bringing in a harder-edged retro vibe. We’ve seen a fair bit of Bucky in tortured-by-his-past mode, and it looks like it’s going to be pretty exciting to see him fully in action during his days as a Soviet agent. 8/10

THE BUNKER #1
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Joe Infurnari
Oni Press $3.99

James R: A few months back, our own Matt C produced his iPad and showed the gathered members of the PCG a digital comic which had us all sitting up with immediate interest - that was The Bunker. Written by Hollywood TV scriptwriter Joshua Hale Fialkov, the plot is an elevator pitch par excellence - a group of friends discover a buried bunker, on the outside of which is written their names. Further investigation reveals that the bunker has been put there by their future selves as a warning - their actions are due to instigate a global catastrophe that will cause the deaths of billions. I was thrilled when I found out that the book was being brought to those of us more analogue readers through Oni Press, and this first issue certainly represents a degree of ambition that's great to see. So, what stops this book being a smash straight out of the traps? If anything, Fialkov is too keen - in this debut instalment, he unleashes a tsunami of plot at us - we're given the central conceit, a good look at the post-apocalyptic future, and the relationships between the protagonists, but I wanted the book to slow down and take a breath. There’s a bumper 39 pages of plot, and that's brilliant, but I also felt that I was getting 309 separate plot strands. It's beautifully illustrated by Joe Infurnari, and the conceit is so strong I can't help but be drawn back for issue# 2, but this feels like a book that needs to walk before it can run. 7/10

MERCENARY SEA #1
Writer: Kel Symons
Art: Mathew Reynolds
Image $2.99

Matt C: In the 1930s the pulps were at their peak, offering tales of adventure, heroism, danger and villainy for an audience eager to devour them. By extension it’s become the era modern writers frequently look back to when crafting stories featuring square-jawed heroes, Eastern mysticism, undiscovered islands, dastardly bad guys, and so on. Symons and Reynolds’ Mercenary Sea is unashamedly revelling in a multitude of genre staples, and whereas some attempts to do this sort of thing seem too calculated, this is looking like it’s nailed the right tone straight away. Symons wisely populates the cast with the kind of characters that suit this a high seas adventure story the best: tough, brave and with a shady past they’re running away from. Reynolds art is pretty spectacular: bold and firm, with an expressive use of silhouettes and stark, effective colour palettes, it has a flavour that successfully melds the retro with the modern. An enormously fun debut and another feather in the cap for Image. 8/10

SHE-HULK #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido & Muntsa Vicente
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I’ve never read a solo She-Hulk title before and to be honest I’ve never read many team books where she happened to be a ‘permanent’ member. Most of my experiences of her come from big events and occasional crossovers where she’s been cast in that heavy-hitter role, one that normally sees her badly injured before the all-important culmination of story where someone like Thor throws his hammer into a black hole solving the problem while she’s patched up in a medbay or lifts herself from the rubble. While her superheroics haven’t particularly grabbed me before it’s the courtroom expertise that Jen Walters possess that really ticks the box this time and Charles Soule does a fine job of starting this series off by looking very closely at that side of her life and how it influences her heavy-hitting in the spandex of the just and good. The true win here is to show just how the day to day lives of the various Avengers differ so greatly and show that while united as a team there are huge gulfs and divides when it comes to wealth, attitude and worldview. While there can be some overfamiliar comparisons made between Jen’s position and that of say Matt Murdock and Peter Parker - the former fighting from the bottom upwards in court while the latter has often had to fight off the red on his bank balance - this feels like the ideal series starting position for a character who is determined not to be judged by her powers alone and who it seems may have to fight prejudice as we follow her eagerly on her path to success. Pulido and Vicente are a decent pick for a book that will potentially keep the gamma-punching to a selective minimum and their collective aesthetic falls somewhere between the feel of the Daredevil title and Mike Allred’s FF work. I suspect we’ll be talking about this title for months to come on the strength of this. 8/10

Matt C: I may have mentioned it round these parts before, but I’m something of a fan of Jennifer Walters. A strong female character, in both senses of the word, she’s long since proven herself to be something far more unique than a simple knock-off of her gamma-irradiated cousin. The best approach to take with her seems to involve adding a dollop of humour and this is something Charles Soule clearly gets. From what I can tell, Soule splits his time between lawyering and, er, writering, so really he’s the perfect choice for a superhero whose other job is practising law – it would either have to be Shulkie or Matt Murdock! - and he seems to find an ideal balance between using legal methods to win arguments and using fists when called for, wringing plenty of decent jokes from the juxtaposition of the two. I like Pulido’s style, and it’s worked for me a lot in the past, and while that’s generally the same case here, I’m not quite 100% convinced by his rendering of the titular character – she just looks a little too smooth and not much like the powerhouse we know and love. I can see myself warming to the way she’s portrayed visually here as Soule’s take on the jade giantess is the most persuasive I’ve seen since Dan Slott’s several years ago. 8/10

THE FUSE #1
Writer: Antony Johnston
Art: Justin Greenwood & Shari Chankhamma
Image $3.50

Matt C: The police procedural formula never really goes past its sell by date – everyone loves a good old murder mystery! – and it’s so resilient it can be transplanted into various eras and environments while remaining utterly compelling. Johnston doesn’t mess with that formula here - the young hotshot transferring in, partnered up with the world weary old-timer who’s not got many years left on the job – but the point is that he keeps things moving at a brisk pace, keeps the narrative on point, and delivers characterization that rings true. Greenwood and Chankhamma blend sci-fi with backstreet criminality effectively, not overdoing the futuristic aspects, keeping things familiar enough to engage. No, it’s not really anything you won’t have seen before, but when it comes to detective fiction that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 8/10

X-FORCE #1
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Rock-He Kim
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There is the continued risk that Marvel’s insistence on relaunching its mutant team books on such a regular basis could see some long term readers drift away through a lack of focus and longevity. This has got to be around the fifth or sixth book to use the X-Force name in its title in as many years and even I’m starting to get weary with it having been following for that amount of time. Spurrier leads us through a debut that sets up the standard manifesto for the shadow ops team as well as showing us how these individuals are learning to work with each other once more during the infancy of their mission. Spurrier instantly gets Cable’s very straightforward voice, Betsy’s frustrated tone with her British edge coming through, and Marrow’s unhinged ‘teenage’ excitement adds an extra spark to the proceedings. I’m not fully convinced by the timing of occasional French phrases dropped into Fantomex’s cheeky patter - it’s always going to be a very thin floor to walk on before you’ve broken through into the stinky mud that is the mention of one particular Looney Tunes skunk - but his inclusion adds an instant level of tension that teases a return to the gloriously unpredictable time of his and Psylocke’s passion. Rock-He Kim is an interesting talent; I’m not sure that some of the viewpoints are quite as effective as they could be and the facial expression work deviates in quality by quite a margin panel to panel, yet there’s an overall quality and tone that just suits an X-Force book so perfectly. Room to grow here and I’m convinced it will. 7/10

BATMAN #28
Writer: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Dustin Nguyen & John Kalisz
DC Comics $3.99

James R: Remember Batman: Year Zero? Well forget it! Immediately! As, from out of leftfield, the retelling of Batman's first year gets put on hold as we're given 'a secret glimpse into Batman: Eternal'! This book is set 'soon' (whatever is the matter with living in the present, eh DC?) and there’s a smorgasbord of clues as to what DC have in store for us in the next Bat-event. Gotham 'lost' with Batman working to win it back (and I say again; who the hell would ever would ever want to live in Gotham?!), a new sidekick, Bluebird (Harper Row, finally stepping up into the Bat-Family), Selina Kyle as the new kingpin of Gotham's underworld and… Spoiler?! There's certainly plenty for Bat-fans to get their teeth into here, but for me it was all a tad predictable. I've never been overly bothered about Spoiler as a character so her re-emergence was met with a shrug rather than a gasp by me. I've said before that I'm worried that I'm starting to get fanboy fatigue with books from the Big Two, and there's absolutely nothing wrong per se with this comic - it's nicely illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, and it's got some nice fan-pleasing beats in it - but did it sell Batman: Eternal for me? Not at all. I need something far more sophisticated and original to pay out for a pricey multi-book series these days. 7/10

THINK TANK #12
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: The finale of what’s being dubbed ‘Season One’, with the series due to return later this year in full colour because apparently there are comics readers out there who won’t touch a book unless its coloured. I have a major problem with folks who say they can’t ever watch movies in black and white so you can probably hazard a guess at what I may think about those who apply the same thinking to comics. Anyway, that aside this is a satisfying ‘finale’ as World War Three starts to kick off and David Loren is powerless to stop it, his own predicament naturally taking priority. It perhaps wraps a little too neatly but I guess that’s understandable as Hawkins and Ekedal leave it in a place that could have acted as a full stop if it was required. There’s also a gun-to-the-head scene that left me scratching my head a bit at what actually occurred, but quibbles aside, when looked at as a whole, Think Tank has been pretty damned phenomenal, and seriously, if you’re still not picking this up when it returns in colour, I’m going to start taking down names and addresses. Don’t disappoint me! 7/10

LETTER 44 #4
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque & Dan Jackson
Oni Press $3.99

James R: There's still an awful lot to enjoy as Charles Soule's SF/Political thriller continues apace and ratchets up the tension both on Earth and deep in space. Following last month's sinister attempt on the life of Elijah Green, President Blades appoints a new Chief of Staff - but is he an ally or part of the nefarious group acting against Blades? Out in space, the crew of the Clarke get very close to first contact, but discover it far from orthodox. What I loved about this issue was that it delivered a whole new set of questions and mysteries on me. Soule is doing a great job at moving the plot along, whilst continuing to add layers of intrigue, and both these aspects make for a great read. After feeling initially sceptical about Alburquerque's pencils, I'm slowly being won over by his style, and in conjunction with the subject matter, it's making Letter 44 a unique book. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel that at the moment this book is a 'hidden gem' - I'm not reading a huge amount of praise for it online, and that's a shame. Letter 44 deserves a place on the pull-list on of every discerning reader. 8/10

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