9 Mar 2014

Mini Reviews 09/03/2014

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.

MOON KNIGHT #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Arguably one of the best comic book writers of all time returns to the mainstream with an ongoing title, and the majority of us will take a look in the hopes of answering the question, ‘Has Warren Ellis still got what it takes?’ Moon Knight #1 offers up a pretty strong case to say that he has. Moon Knight has always appeared to me to be a bit of a blank slate, ripe for reinvention, and although various writers have attempted to reinvent Marc Spector and his alter ego, none of them have taken him in a direction that’s really stuck. Ellis’ is approach is to acknowledge the schizophrenic past, acknowledge the ‘poor man’s Batman’ accusations, and then attempt to reinvigorate the character as a sort of costumed vigilante riff on Sherlock. And it works. It works because Ellis is still capable of crafting some fearsomely intelligent scripts – even when he’s doing the work-for-hire thing – and it works because Shalvey and Bellaire produce some creepy visuals, nicely emphasizing the extreme whiteness of the costume that ensures our hero’s enemies can see him coming. Ellis is still up there in the pantheon, and always will be I’d imagine, but it’s my fervent hope after this strong debut that this doesn’t get abandoned by the writer too soon as he’s clearly onto something here. 8/10

Stewart R: And so we’re back with Marc Spector again. In another $3.99 book and alongside some very promising competition from this latest batch of Marvel NOW! efforts. While I personally found Brian Michael Bendis’ idea involving Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine as fractions of Spector’s psyche to be laughable, I actually enjoyed how Ellis gets straight to the point here, acknowledging what Bendis did and explaining it as an ongoing battle that Spector is having following his transformation at that hands of Khonshu, and the way in which he spells that out - with suitably trippy and menacing visual panache from Shalvey - makes for an impressive start. What stands out even more is how Ellis dances along the clich├ęd Dark Knight line that has often been the riff on Moon Knight previously, yet does it in unapologetic fashion and actually seems to almost state through his protagonist's work alongside the agents of New York law enforcement and his confident skirmish skills that this is a Batman analogue for Marvel readers, albeit it one with psychological issues which could bring his world down at any given time. I personally like this twist on the idea and perhaps that’s why I seem to come back to the adventures of Moon Knight time and again whenever Marvel deem it necessary to launch a new book. Ellis appears to be leading us on an analytical journey into Spector’s fractured and tormented psyche and I’ll be back next time to see how these early steps progress. 7/10

STARLIGHT #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Goran Parlov & Ive Svorcina
Image $2.99

Matt C: Take one part Buck Rogers, one part Flash Gordon, and one part John Carter, throw in a dash of – of all things! – Pixar’s Up, and you’ve got a recipe for the best debut issue from Mark Millar in quite a while. Yes, it’s another high concept from the writer – space adventurer in the classic mould gets called up for one last adventure – but there’s barely any of the cynicism that often plagues his work, in its place an affecting look at a man in the twilight of his years, treated with ridicule for his outlandish claims of alien worlds, and after being kept aloft through it all by the love of his wife, now finds himself alone. Parlov clasps hold of the emotion at the heart of Millar’s script and makes it resonate on the page, and both men have a clear mastery of the medium to understand that sometimes all that’s needed is one effective panel to convey something integral to the plot in a way that really hits home. I mentioned Up, a movie that packed a real emotional wallop during its opening minutes only to settle into something - while eminently enjoyable - a little more formulaic. I sort of hope this isn’t the case with Starlight as this was a stellar opening. 9/10

VEIL #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Toni Fejzula
Dark Horse $3.50

James R: One thing alone drew me to this book, and that's Greg Rucka's name. Seeing that he's currently writing the flawless Lazarus for Image, I couldn't resist this new title. The eponymous character wakes up naked in a New York subway station with no memory of who she is, or how she came to be there. As she wanders naively onto the mean streets of New York, she's lucky to meet Dante, a man who takes her in and seeks to uncover who she is. Veil herself also has an incredible skill - to manipulate the minds of those she comes into contact with. The teaser images on the first page suggest that black magic and dark forces abound, but this first issue simply serves as a mood setter for what's to come. It looks incredibly distinctive with Toni Fejzula's art giving the pages a dark, menacing, yet dreamlike quality. I'm not normally a fan of comics that have the dark arts as their focus, but this first issue has certainly piqued my interest. Not the solid gold smash straight out the blocks that Lazarus was, but certainly an intriguing first chapter. 7/10

PUNISHER #3
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: They’ve won me over, I think. I was initially swaying towards the opinion that this might be a better comic if it didn’t feature Frank Castle and wasn’t set in the Marvel Universe, but Edmondson and Gerards have put forth a convincing enough case that they can make a potentially one-dimensional character hold his own in a world where capes and cowls are the norm, and have him engage in that world without it appearing ridiculous. Here, Castle isn’t so much a psychopathic vigilante with enough firepower to wipe out a third world country but a soldier waging his own war because he believes there’s no one else better equipped to do so. And he’s not an unstoppable killing machine, he can find himself out of his depth, as he does here when faced with an adversary who possess actual superpowers that render him nearly ineffectual as a result. It’s far more compelling than watching him mow down Mafioso issue after issue, and there’s an authenticity that the creators inject into the proceedings that makes it all the more exciting to watch as the events unfold. When I initially heard the guys behind The Activity were taking on Castle, it sounded to me like a good fit. Three issues in and it looks like I was right. 8/10

TRILLIUM #7
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: As Jeff Lemire's Trillium builds to its finale, there's still much to admire here. Lemire continues to keep the reader on his toes by flipping the book as the narrative shifts between William and Nika, but this issue invites us to be even further enveloped in the tale. At the back of the book, we're given a primer into the Atabithian alphabet which then allows us to go back and revise both this and the previous issues for more insight into the mysterious alien world of Trillium. I know that this isn't a new device (Jonathan Hickman did the same with the Builder's language over in Avengers) but this feels slightly richer to me. The page at the back explains how the Atabithians have three fingers on each hand, and as such they count in base six. It's this kind of attention to detail that adds so much to this book. Beyond all this, there's something about Lemire as a storyteller that just works for me - I find his pacing dead-on and his characters fully realised, and I still love that the series has developed in a way that I didn't anticipate at all whilst reading issue #1. My admiration for Lemire's talent continues to grow, and it's not only exciting to reflect on where Trillium might end up, but also what he has in store next. 8/10

SHE-HULK #2
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido & Muntsa Vicente
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Charles Soule follows up on a highly successful debut that introduced us to his version of Jennifer Walters, and all of her superhero and daily life troubles, with a second issue that keeps a similar pace and light, humorous feel throughout. He expands upon Jen’s increasingly tough career position thanks to the poison being spread by her former employers whilst also highlighting that for all the good that they do, superheroes can be subject to prejudice and fear thanks to the associated trouble that can follow them around. Introducing Sharon King, the owner of the building now home to Jen’s office, provides a nice link to this and her previous mutant history that I’m sure will add an interesting element as the story progresses. We get a couple of additional cast members brought to the party - one familiar, one new - and both fine pieces of the puzzle with Hellcat sure to bring the fun and quirky office assistant Angie the mystery. It’s all coming together very nicely indeed and with the cliffhanger here we can be sure that the third instalment is going to be just as solid and entertaining. 8/10

JUPITER'S LEGACY #4
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Frank Quitely & Peter Doherty
Image $2.99

James R: I still remain incredibly ambivalent about Mark Millar. For me, his good work is outstanding, but it always feels like it's a confident riff on somebody else's pioneering work - for example, The Ultimates was great, but was the Marvelisation of Warren Ellis' work on The Authority. I'm also put off by the amount of self-aggrandising he's put our way since the creation of Millarworld. I'm all for self-publicity, but Millar has sometimes been more P.T. Barnum than Stan Lee. Given these obstacles, I'm amazed at how much I'm enjoying Jupiter's Legacy. After issue #2 I felt it was a beautiful but derivative title, but now by issue #4, there's clearly much more going on here. The 'Children of Superheroes' thing has been done many times before, but Millar handles this story with a deft touch, intercutting with the difficulties encountered by Brandon in creating his and Walter's utopia. Once again, the project is given an extra dimension by Frank Quietly's distinctive and beautifully rendered art. By the end of this issue, I was desperate to see what happens next - and that for me is a personal sign of a quality comic. This is definitely shaping up to be Millar's best since American Jesus. 8/10

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