31 Mar 2014

Mini Reviews 30/03/2014

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.

IRON PATRIOT #1
Writer: Ales Kot
Art: Garry Brown & Jim Charalampidis
Marvel £3.99


Matt C: Some interesting family drama forms the core of this initial chapter before it makes way for Jim Rhodes announcing himself as a free agent who will only engage in military action on US soil. That’s potentially the even more interesting angle to approach things from, but it’s unclear whether  greater emphasis will placed on that plot thread going forward, and by the time giant oil monsters enter the mix the impression that no one really knows how to make Rhodey into anything other than a supporting character is unavoidable.  Kot looks like he’ll tackling things intelligently, and it’s good to see Brown bring an indie visual aesthetic to a mainstream character, but when it comes down to it there’s not enough to justify spending $3.99 on what will likely – and sadly – be a short-lived title. 6/10

REAL HEROES #1
Writer: Bryan Hitch
Art: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary & Laura Martin
Image $3.99 

Stewart R: I think it’s fair to say that Mr Hitch doesn’t hide the fact that that the Marvel movies and his own work on the Ultimates series are a big influence on his opening gambit with Real Heroes. The cinematic, blockbuster group here are called the Olympians and they borrow from both Marvel and DC canons in their make-up and amalgams - flying powerhouse, cocky speedster, size-changer, athletic archer, patriotism-fuelled and emblem adorned, machine-gun wielding soldier, metal behemoth-encased paraplegic - it’s safe to say that the bases have been well and truly covered. Even in their actor, ‘real life’ counterparts skip close to cliche with the clean and crisp golden boy, shady paparazzi-chased bad boy, rap-star-turned-actor and there’s nothing particularly new in using televisual perspectives to define these characters in one/two panel punches and soundbites. It’s only when things skip a beat from meta, media commentary to ‘What If’ territory late on that the promise of such a story really shows up and through all of the ‘seen it before’ moments there must be a thread of pure intrigue as come the final page I was left wondering where this writer/artist might just take us next. The bottom line is that there’s nothing new here at all for anyone who’s been reading/watching the superhero genre over the past 20 years, but it is pretty polished work visually and since any new ideas are likely to come from #2 it may be worth a gamble to see what Hitch has up his sleeve. 5/10 

THE WAKE #7
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
Vertigo Comics $2.99 

James R: This weekend, I've tried to think of another series which has, like The Wake, performed an incredible 180 degree turn mid-run. I'm at a loss, frankly - Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's eco-horror (and now dystopia SF) comic is effortlessly good, and this week it was the comic that gave me the best fanboy satisfaction. Here we discover more about Leeward's past growing up in a post-Mers world, and about her punishment for listening to the transmitter in the last issue. There's so much to enjoy - Snyder, as always, fills his plot with great characters, and the drowned world of the future continues to be a visual marvel; the pages featuring the retconned cruise liner are simply stunning. Once again, Sean Murphy shows his credentials as one of the best working artists in comics, and Matt Hollingsworth colours give the book a distinctly European feel. The final eight pages of the book were simply breathtaking - Snyder and Murphy portray an action scene which is equal parts thrilling, horrifying and ultimately surprising. By the final page I was desperate to read more. With only three issues to go, I can't wait to see how this is going to pay off. Definitely an example of mainstream comics at their best. 9/10

THE BUNKER #2
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Joe Infurnari
Oni Press $2.99
 

Matt C: The first instalment of this series felt disjointed, primarily because it was made up from the five separate digital issues released via Comixology and not designed as a single chapter, causing the cliffhangers for each to become subsumed by the whole. Without being given that the added weight, those particular dramatic revelations lost some of their punch, not to the extent that it weakened the overall strength of the narrative, more that certain things that worked brilliantly in the digital format got a little lost in the mix. The Bunker #2 is the first issue fully designed as a regular 22-page comic book read, and as such the pacing is a lot smoother, hitting all the right beats at the right moments as it leads up to its own cliffhanger. It remains a brilliant, thought-provoking premise, raising philosophical questions of predeterminism, asking whether our destinies are locked in or whether we can change their course to prevent catastrophe. Infurnari’s sketchy art, now designed for colour rather than colour being added after the fact, lends the proceedings a pleasing sense of fatalism, and overall it seems that not only does this book work in the extended, ‘floppy’ format, but it thrives too. 8/10

SEX #12
Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Piotr Kowalski & Brad Simpson
Image Comics  $2.99 

James R: One year old, and this book continues to go from strength to strength. The pellet review is 'Joe Casey does a post-retirement Batman', and for me that would be worth the price of admission. But there's so many other rich themes at play here, that for the grizzled comics fan (and hey, aren't we all?!) Sex is a smart and accomplished read. Along with exploring the idea of just what a superhero does when he hangs up his or her cape, Casey riffs on the idea of having a calling or a vocation. There's also overtones of class and money, all tied into a plot which doesn't sizzle, but has a brooding energy which is difficult to resist. Casey may have used the title as an attention grabber, but within the pages of Sex is an intelligent and polished comic. With the Bat-titles being particularly flat at the moment, this, for my money, is the best Batman comic being published. Hats firmly aloft to messieurs Casey and Kowalski, and here's to another great year of Sex. (Sorry, some lame gags just can't be resisted!) 8/10 

NEW AVENGERS #16
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Rags Morales & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99 

Matt C: Epting and Deodato are the guys who seem to nail the artistic tone of this book on the head; Bianchi just wasn’t right and it looks like Morales isn’t really the man for the job either. The former two are able to convey with ease the morally dubious environment in which the Illuminati operate.  I think I could put up with less suitable illustrations if the storyline hadn’t gone of course slightly, getting stuck in a rut of repetition instead of moving things further forward. We get a look at another Earth, this time featuring a loose JLA analogue, and that’s all well and good if it wasn’t such a hackneyed idea that served as another indication that the narrative is being dragged backwards when it needs to go forwards. 5/10

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #30
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos N Gage
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell, Terry Pallot & Antonio Fabela
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: As much as we’d like important, poignant, potent superhero-related battles to continuously keep giving us those ‘hair standing on the back of the neck' moments in perpetuity, it becomes all too apparent that in order to truly resonate and live up to their potential, those moments must be delivered in the briefest of glimpses - the pebble hits the water in fractions of a second yet it’s the ripples that will carry the message for many seconds to come! Superior Spider-Man #30 is a perfect example of that process as Dan Slott, with scripting help from Gage, culminates all of the lessons learned - or ignored - by Otto Octavius in his time as Peter Parker and uses them to measure the Superior Spider-Man against the unrestrained potential and self-sacrifice of his predecessor. It’s quick, captivating stuff indeed and while the sense of peril relating to the ‘nearest-and dearest’ of the Webbed Wonder has to be put slightly to the side in order for the major strokes to come through - and some may possibly quibble the way in which such an important turn seems to happen in an instant - Otto’s actions here strike at the reader’s heart, and do so in a fashion that proves Slott’s premise for this entire series was fully justified. We all know where we’ll be heading in less than an 'Amazing' month’s time, but this penultimate issue ensures Superior’s entry into the must read Spider-Man stories of the character’s lifetime. 9/10

DEADLY CLASS #3
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50
 

Matt C: Larger narrative concerns take a back seat this month as Remender lets Marcus’ first ‘mission’, alongside teen gangsta Willie, take up the majority of the page count. The insightful dialogue, astute observations and abundance of great character writing make this another high point in series that isn’t quite as obvious and clear cut as its premise might suggest. The period detail is there in the script, but not to a distracting extent, and that goes for Craig’s wonderfully dynamic and emotive art (along with Loughbridge’s bold colouring) too. Character is key though, as it usually is in Remender’s writing, and this title, alongside Black Science and, indeed, Uncanny Avengers, is ensuring he’s firmly making his mark on 2014. 8/10 

James R: I was mortified that I'd missed my opportunity to review issue #2 of Deadly Class, so this month I have to put things right. With this third issue, we're given a comic which is far from new or unique in terms of plot or character - Marcus & Willie bond during a mission in which we learn that both of the teens may be different at heart to how they seem on the surface - but the issue is driven on by Remender's skilful plotting and Craig's distinctive art. Remender is like his Marvel colleague Jonathan Hickman, at his best when dealing with deeper philosophical and ethical issues, and whereas this is most evident in his exceptional Black Science, it's far more subtle here - the theme is 'How do you live in a life without choices?'. Marcus, Willie and their victim this issue are three people who simply have no choice; their lives have become the products of forces beyond their control. I didn't feel knocked out by the issue, but by the end, I felt that the book is shaping up to be a title that can flourish into something special. Certainly one to watch over the coming months. 8/10

UNCANNY AVENGERS #18
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuna
Marvel $3.99 

Matt C: What was intended as the flagship title of the Marvel NOW! initiative seems to have practically ignored everything else around it and forged its own path with very little interference from the rest of the Marvel Universe. It does of course help when time travel is involved, but at its core this is Remender continuing with the themes he started playing with in Uncanny X-Force and I imagine that, when all is said and done, you could potentially look at both series as a complete magnum opus. Relentlessly exciting and brimming with ideas, after a somewhat shaky start Uncanny Avengers is now matching its predecessor’s intoxicating blend of darkness and despair, with hope barely shining a light through the middle. Acuna has proven himself to be the perfect artist to capture Remender’s narrative sensibilities when it comes to dealing with this mismatched team of X-Men and Avengers. McNiven’s work was undeniably accomplished, but Acuna’s style just sets the tone perfectly. 8/10

DEAD BODY ROAD #4
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Matteo Scalera & Moreno Dinisio
Image/Skybound $2.99


Stewart R: In the back of this issue, once the dust has settled from what can be clearly and succinctly referred to as a 'balls-to-the-wall stomach churner' of an illustrated chase sequence, writer Justin Jordan offers up a few words which explain why he elected to script this issue in this manner. And it’s true; you don’t tend to see relentless chase sequence in the comic medium. Funnily enough, outside of Dead Body Road the first series that sprung to mind for the last big, successful chase I witnessed was Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers, which, of course, was illustrated by Matteo Scalera when he had Captain Britain and Hawkeye jetting all over the sky trying to outrun the hordes after them. Suffice to say that Scalera is a pure master of speed when it comes to the narrative flow of kinetic panels and there are very few who can match his talents in that regard. Even when Jordan decides to drop in the odd spot of what would be speed-restricting exposition - a telephone call mid-sequence offers up some plot progression - Scalera adds one brief panel which keeps the death-defying momentum subconsciously running in the background. It’s exhilarating storytelling with a visceral edge - you can only imagine the crowd response in the cinema if this was live-action when that panel appears - and Dead Body Road has its thriller-hooks deeply planted in my brain. 9/10

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