23 Feb 2014

Mini Reviews 23/02/2014

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.

UNDERTOW #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Art: Artyom Trakhanov
Image $2.99

Stewart R: A tale set in a period a very long, long, long time ago which looks at the potential end of the Atlantean Empire as fractious civil war arises through stagnation, Undertow starts in somewhat confusing fashion as Trakhanov tries to depict an underwater battle but doesn’t clearly identify just what we’re witnessing. Things are clarified the further you read in as Orlando provides enough exposition to allow us to learn of a separatist group and their leader who is looking towards the air-breathing surface for the salvation of his species, whilst Ukinnu, a young soldier captured in that initial skirmish, is invited to have his horizons broadened under the wing of the steely and dedicated Redum Anshargal. In spite of the confusing and erratic art style there’s definitely something to this science fiction story of civil politics and adventure to pick at my interest and when it comes to the charismatic Redum - who I don’t believe is the actual protagonist of this piece - Orlando seems to have created a legendary Atlantean adventurer with many mysteries surrounding him. Promising, yet in need of polishing. 7/10

Matt C: An attempt to weave a mythology from the not-so-original notion that ancient Atlantis was peopled by a race of technologically advanced beings, Undertow has plenty of ambition but the storytelling failed to find firm footing, at least for me. I can’t fault the imagination applied to this world-building exercise, with its emphasis on the political side of things as its sets up two opposing factions, but it plodded along without really giving the archetypal characters an opportunity to convince us they’re worth getting to know. I liked Trakhanov’s art quite a bit, its murkiness suiting the depths of the ocean, but that visual murkiness started to gel with the murkiness of the narrative, meaning by the end I’d lost interest. There’s so much stuff coming out of Image days, sometimes you have to be ruthless with your opinion unfortunately, and Undertow didn’t come across as a story I really want to dive into. 5/10

WHITE SUITS #1
Writer: Frank Barbiere
Art: Toby Cypress
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: We first saw White Suits in the pages of Previews when we were putting together our monthly Ten Forward piece, and it looked a book rich with promise. This week sees the release of the first issue proper (following some short stories in the pages of DH Presents) and it's definitely the most striking book I picked up this week. This is largely due to the art and colouring of Toby Cypress, whose idiosyncratic style - bold inks, hyper-kinetic lines and almost cartoonish rendering - makes this a book that grabs the attention. Sadly, the script didn't quite match the imagery. At this moment the cast are very two-dimensional, and the dialogue veers into cliché in places - has anyone ever truly said "Tonight, I get some answers!"? There were also a couple of very heavy riffs from pop culture -Kill Bill and American Psycho sprung immediately to mind. There is promise here though, the mystery of the White Suits themselves is a neat one, but I'm hoping that the subsequent issues show Frank Barbiere really finding his own narrative voice for the tale. Not bad, but not essential. 6/10

Stewart R: Whilst there’s nothing entirely new about a story of mystery assassins scouring the various underworld syndicates and gangs utilising devastating, bloodthirsty force, this debut of The White Suits involves plenty of style in the delivery from Barbiere’s dialogue and Cypress’s distinctive line and colour work. This is definitely an issue that sets up all of the questions and provides very few answers as limbs fly, swords flash and lead speeds its way through human cerebellum. The amnesia that plagues the - so far nameless - hunted man is something of a clichéd hook, but I can’t deny that it sits well in the overall mystery that filters through this issue cover to cover and certainly helps to establish his troubled and foggy memories along with his latent and potentially dangerous skillset. As far as a kickstart to a four-parter goes, this is a very decent and captivating beginning. 8/10

DAREDEVIL #36
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: And so ends this particular volume of the rightly acclaimed series, with Waid skilfully repositioning the Man Without Fear ready for a relaunch that actually does look like it’ll feature a shake-up of the status quo and provide a genuine jumping on point. It gets to that point via some courtroom antics that nicely segue into some superhero antics, the trick being that Waid keeps his characterizations true and avoids things toppling into ridiculousness. The Samnee and Rodriguez art combo draws real emotion from a visual style that is – on the surface – bright and cartoonish, because, on closer inspection, there is depth and darkness that reveals itself when required. It’s not been seamlessly great, and occasionally felt a tad lightweight compared to earlier takes on the character, but more often than not it hit a bullseye (sorry!) and is likely to be looked back as one of the great Daredevil runs in years to come. 8/10

UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #2
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross, Chris Chuckry & Lee Loughridge
DC/Vertigo $3.99

Matt C: It’s reached a point where it feels like Unwritten is beginning to creak under the weight of its own mythology. Arguably it reached crescendo about 15-20 issues ago, and it’s struggled to find a clear direction ever since, culminating in a crossover with Fables that was near indecipherable for anyone who wasn’t reading actually Fables already. This ‘relaunch’ continues to indicate that it’s getting things back on track, but not quite as swiftly as I’d have liked. Really, it’s the characters that keep me onboard at this stage, that and a desire to see how things play out, hopefully with a return to form before we reach the conclusion (which can’t be that far off, can it?). Gross’ art as well is a major plus point, and it does seem like it’s been visibly improving since the first issue, and is damn near faultless at this stage. I desperately want this back up alongside of my top reads each month, but it's still some way off that point. 6/10

James R: Last year there was a lot of talk about how hard it is to end any ongoing series. It's tough when you establish an audience who want a story to continue indefinitely, but it has to reach a finale as most narratives demand. With Unwritten, the opposite is the case. This is a book that simply doesn't know when to stop. In its early incarnation, I was a huge fan of the title. It was cerebral and Mike Carey had tapped a rich vein for a narrative: the power and value of stories to individuals and to culture. Using some very famous tropes as backdrops, the story of Tom Taylor was unpredictable and constantly entertaining. By issue #30 though, the book was starting to flag, and the innovative issues were few and far between. There then followed a largely pointless crossover with Fables, and now, with the second issue of Apocalypse, I realised something awful: I simply don't care anymore. The plot meanders on, with no real end in sight and despite the always attractive art of Peter Gross, this book hardly made an impact on me. It's a great shame as Mike Carey is both a great talent and an extremely nice guy, but for me this is a story that's should have written its final chapter a while ago. 4/10

AVENGERS WORLD #3
Writers: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer
Art: Stefano Caselli, Antonio Fabela & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’m not entirely sure what Hickman and Spencer are going for here. The title of the book and pre-release publicity suggested this was going to be about how the Avengers have found a different world post-Infinity with different problems to tackle on a global scale, and while there are elements of that it reads more like an uneasy mix between Avengers Spotlight and Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency. That’s not a bad idea on paper but so far there’s been a lack of consistency and, to a certain extent, cohesiveness. This is essentially a Shang-Chi solo issue as he battles Gorgon on Madripoor, which is currently being carried across Asia on the head of the dragon it’s been resting on for centuries (yes, really!). What could have been dealt with in a few pages is extended to a point where it almost reaches tedium and the book is currently failing to make a case that it can stand up alongside Avengers and New Avengers, and whether it’s entirely necessary for the franchise to have a third ongoing title. 6/10

ANIMAL MAN #28
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
DC Comics $2.99

James R: As we draw ever closer to the end of the current incarnation of Animal Man, Jeff Lemire gives us the classic comic staple: the big fight issue. Having built up to a showdown between Blood and the Bakers, we get the payoff here. If you've been reading mainstream comics for more than three months, you'll know what to expect here, but what really elevates this issue is the artwork. Animal Man has had an impressive artist roster in this run, and here Rafael Albuquerque really reminds us that he is an extraordinary talent. The book is filled with huge, dynamic panels which really sell both the conflict and the plot really well. It's exciting to remember that Albuquerque and Scott Snyder's second phase of American Vampire is immanent - at the moment, the artist is on outstanding form. Once again, it will be sad to bid farewell to the Bakers as this book ends, but it's been an exceptional run. Amongst the many misfires of the New 52, it's been a consistent hit. 7/10

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