24 Mar 2014

Mini Reviews 23/03/2014

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.

DAREDEVIL #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee & Javier Rodriguez
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: With an almost unbridled sense confidence and expertise, Mark Waid kicks off another issue #1 of Daredevil. Not that the Man Of Fear has been anywhere seeing how the last volume of the title only concluded last month and in between we’ve been blessed with a very excellent digital miniseries subtitled Road Warrior, but as a new statements of intent goes this incredibly persuasive. Basically in Waid, Samnee and Rodriguez we’re looking at a trio of creators who’ve achieved such beautiful synergy that there’s almost a feeling that they could put a new Daredevil issue out in their sleep, but the fact is they’re not prepared to rest on their laurels and box themselves in, they’re fully prepared to shake up the status quo and take things in a new direction. Which they do here, rather brilliantly. San Francisco ain’t New York, and seeing Daredevil out of his element – out of Hell’s Kitchen essentially – looks like it will provide plenty of grist for the storytelling mill. Oh, and there’s a humdinger of final page too. Existing fans can rest assured there’s absolutely no sign of a dip in quality and new fans can use this as a perfect opportunity to jump onboard one of Marvel’s best books. 8/10

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
Vertigo Comics $3.99


James R: I'll be the first to admit I wasn't a massive fan on the original American Vampire series. It certainly had it's moments, but I personally preferred Snyder's two spin-off miniseries. Those had an epic, blockbuster feel, and did something interesting with the vampire mythos. I felt the main series was often misplaced, and both Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones weren't compelling enough protagonists. Therefore, it pleases me enormously to say that after a hiatus, American Vampire has returned more rejuvenated than Dracula after a night in a convent school. Straight away, Snyder brings in the 'vampire genealogy' from the miniseries, and positions it as one of the central plots, alongside the mysterious (and creepy) Gray Trader. I felt that the book was immediately more focused, and a much more gripping read. From his final page notes, it's clear that Snyder has a focused and definite end in mind for the series, and it's already paying dividends. Rafael Albuquerque's art is beautiful as always - his recent work on Animal Man was a timely reminder of just how good he is. Dave McCaig's lush colours compliment his work perfectly, and all told, this is a polished and accomplished comic. In a week of strong books, this one felt the most vital, and I'm already looking forward to the next issue. 8/10


 UNDERTOW #2
Writer: Steve Orlando
Art: Artyom Trakhanov
Image $2.99


Stewart R: Last month I spoke of the debut of Undertow and stated it was promising, yet in need of polishing. Sadly that remains the case once again in this second issue as Orlando tries to expand the vision of this Atlantean society; with its various factions, facets and cast members it gets as confusing and as murky as Trakhanov’s art work. There are a handful of deaths in this chapter, though I couldn’t tell you of the exact amount as I lost track of who was being attacked from panel to panel and it does seem that Trakhanov has a distinct style, evidently with a keen sense for brooding atmosphere. Unfortunately I feel as if I have to study each of his panels at length to make sure I’ve understood everything about it and spotted everything. In a title switching locale AND time at various points as its scope broadens rather quickly, this is a story (and world) that requires my full attention as a reader and the art should allow that discovery to flow as smoothly and easily as possible. In Undertow the art and the script appear to be slightly out of sync with each other and I’m afraid that I’m gonna duck out of proceedings at this juncture and chalk this up as something to maybe come back to in collected form or when digging in the convention longboxes. 5/10


X-MEN #12
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Kris Anka, Jason Keith, Clay Mann, Seth Mann & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: I recently conducted a big old X-Men catchup session and tore through about five issues of this arc in one sitting. With this week’s issue Brian Wood brings this (opening?) Dark Sisterhood story to a close as the women of the X-Men take the battle to Arkea and her growing forces with little held back. To be frank the confrontation is incredibly brief and certain elements appear to get wrapped up in far too quickly thanks to a strange piece of naivety from one antagonist, course corrections by others, and an instantly produced macguffin. Yes, the way in which the X-Men work to tackle their enemy is depicted well, giving Monet more time to shine and delivering some neat Psylocke action, but unless this proves to be a fake out there’s just something in the back of my mind that keeps whispering the word ‘underwhelming’ over and over quietly. It may be that the decision to split the page count between the main thrust and the brilliantly kinetic Clay Mann pencilled battle against the Sentinels featuring Jubilee's team of teenagers (spoiler: the cover is definitely a fake out!) forced Wood to work quickly with the plot in order to fit to the page and issue count and deliver an arc finale of sorts. Or it’s all one masterfully planned concoction that will pay off at a later date. I’ve certainly enjoyed the arc enough to be hoping it’s the latter and to pay my money over the coming months to find out for sure as this is the X-title to be picking up currently. 7/10


LETTER 44 #5
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque & Dan Jackson
Oni Press $3.99


Matt C:  Five issues in and Soule really cranks things up with an unbearably tense instalment. Bar a brief interlude with President Blades starting to exert his power and protect himself, the issue essentially consists of two riveting sequences where things escalate rapidly into firefights. While both these sequences unfold at pretty much the same pace, the contrast is that they take place millions of miles apart, and the genius is that they’re equally magnetic and retain a sense of cohesion, never giving the impression that we’re jumping from one unrelated occurrence to another, instead keeping it firmly in our minds that everything is connected. Smart, thrilling and surprising, this was a blinding issue of one of the very best comics not enough people are buying. 9/10

James R: There really isn't another book like Letter 44 on the stands. I know you can say that about so many comics, but Charles Soule political intrigue/SF mash-up continues to enthral me. In this issue, the 'Away Team' of the Clarke find that first contact isn't a meeting filled with benevolence. Meanwhile, President Blades sends a team of Feds in to locate the mysteriously absent former President Carroll. These two events dovetail together brilliantly throughout the issue and give the comic a terrific narrative drive. If there's any criticism it's simply that the book seems to end on a strangely anti-climatic note. I know not every comic has to end with a gasp-inducing last page, but after building up such a head of steam I felt that a bigger revelation or final line would have been the proverbial icing on the cake. As it is, Letter 44 continues to be a solid read and a wonderfully unique book. 7/10


 ROCKET GIRL #4
Writer: Brandon Montclare
Art: Amy Reeder
Image $3.50


Stewart R: And so, after a short delay the jetpack, time travel shenanigans return once more as DaYoung comes face to face with attackers from her own future time, on - and rather gloriously - below the streets of 1980s New York City. I’ll admit that there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of plot progression this time out aside from the scientists of 1986 seemingly going down their unsuspecting and predetermined path to ensure Quintum Mechanics’ dominant future and a little bit of character development for the friends that DaYoung left behind. A lack of (or very subtle) plot progression however, can be excused when you’re then able to witness a superbly chaotic and thunderous chase around Manhattan and through its subway system. While Reeder’s pencil work and inking looks a tad rushed on a few of the quieter pages compared to the previous instalments, her dynamism with the chase sequence is just out of this world and I’ve enjoyed flicking through this issue several times just to soak all that frenetic action up again and again. Big, colourful, action-packed fun is order of the day and providing that the plot bubbles up with focus from time to time I’ll continue to strap myself in for this particular ride. 8/10


LAZARUS #7
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image Comics  $2.99


James R: Or, 'Just Buy It Already!' Another fine issue of Lazarus and yet more good work to salute from Greg Rucka. This month, what I wanted to highlight is how Rucka handles death in this title. When you have a lead character who is an all-round (virtually) unkillable badass, the temptation is to have them laying waste to people left, right and centre. Rucka wisely eschews this though and portrays the violence in the world of Lazarus as something horrific, but yet also an inescapable part of life that every human has to endure. As the cover suggests, this month we see the Barret family encounter a tragedy on the way to the Lift selection process. The event itself is dark and disturbing, really hitting home to the reader how far the near-future society has fallen, and evoked elements of Cormac McCarthy's The Road - and that's high praise indeed. There's an assured tone here from the entire creative team, and as with Rick Remender's Black Science, there's a real sense of this developing into an ensemble book, with Rucka finding something interesting to say wherever he turns his narrative gaze. 8/10


APHRODITE IX #9
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Top Cow $2.99


Stewart R: World building, world building, glorious, expansive world building. Before the burning starts over the next few issues of course! That’s what Matt Hawkins and Stjepan Sejic are doing through this arc as Aphrodite IX continues on her quest for murderous justice on the man who used her as a tool and had her kill those she had come to know and respect. I love the idea of dormant sanctuaries dotted around the globe, containing advanced sentient remnants of a forgotten age that offer the potential to wreak terrible havoc across a world already on the path to annihilation. What’s key here is that Hawkins is balancing the swelling of this comic book world with the personal plight of Aphrodite as she battles against the clock to find her vengeance. At every twisted turn - and this contains a couple of doozies - I genuinely feel for her predicament and the final page offered up by Sejic is simply brilliant as it expands to leave the readership mentally screaming along with that final outburst. The news that Hawkins and Sejic have big plans beyond the series finale at #11 has made this one reader a very happy bunny indeed! 9/10


MS. MARVEL #2
Writer: G.Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
Marvel $2.99


Matt C: This is exactly the kind of concept that Marvel excel at and, as such, it’s an entirely essential addition to their roster. Since the beginnings of the Marvel Age some 50 odd years ago, Stan Lee and co had a knack of channelling feelings of alienation, frustration and just plain not-fitting-in through some of their most iconic characters, connecting to those – predominantly teenagers – who had experience of feeling bullied or left out.  In some ways a lot of these themes have been diluted through the years, to the point where the mythology of, say, the X-Men has become so dense that picking up on some of the core ideas has become much more difficult. Which is why Ms. Marvel is providing such a breath of fresh air. A familiar storyline given a welcome, contemporary spin, it gears itself towards a certain demographic than can instantly relate to the kind of things the main character is going through but does so in a way that makes it more universal, more recognisable, and as such, vastly more appealing than it possibly could have been. It’s a testament to the skills of the creative team that this already feels so real and truthful, possessing some classic Marvel magic that some could argue has been missing from certain properties for quite a while. 8/10

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