3 Mar 2014

Mini Reviews 02/03/2014

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.

FANTASTIC FOUR #1
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel & Jesus Aburtov
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Another year, another Fantastic Four #1. Fraction’s Marvel Now! relaunch didn’t do much for me coming straight after Jonathan Hickman’s rather impressive run, so after skipping that I was a bit ambivalent about this new the iteration of the title and whether it could offer up anything interesting with these characters. At this point, my love of Marvel’s First Family is almost a part of my genetic makeup, so I’m always going to be drawn back to them, no matter how long we’ve been apart. Robinson’s never been a writer I’ve followed much and Kirk’s work I’ve liked but not to the extent that I actively seek it out, but as I say, it’s the FF, it’s guaranteed I’ll give it a look, and I have to say it was pretty good. Not great, groundbreaking or doing anything especially new, but it felt… comfortable. Yeah, that’s not the most glowing recommendation but I did get the feeling Robinson has – while not the perfect take – a pretty assured understanding of how this team ticks, and that’s enough for me to come back for the next issue. A solid foundation to build on I think, and a lot more convincing than the last issue #1 of this book. 7/10

UNCANNY AVENGERS #17
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor, Matt Milla & Larry Molinar
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There’s something pretty darn interesting going on within the pages of Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers; he’s managing to conjure and coalesce Marvel’s ‘big event’ formula within the pages of an ongoing series that is happily maintaining a sense of separation from the events of its parent comic book universe. Aside from the one mention of Steve Roger’s tortuous time in Dimension Z, there’s only been one major and recurring idea relating to events in another title and that’s been Wolverine’s X-Force discretion in Remender’s former Uncanny success story. That isolation of sorts has allowed 'Ragnarok Now' to slightly sneak under the radar as the heads have literally rolled and the blood been spilled attempting to stop the Apocalypse Twins from destroying the world through complicated manipulation of celestial powers. Thanks to careful shock management - it’s still surprising when the body count slowly ticks onwards without fail each issue - the manner in which the cards fall here remains surprising until the last page and that’s another win in Remender’s hands. The only major problem, that is now clearly visible like the pilot fish hanging on to a much bigger shark, is that we’re 99% confirmed to be in ‘What If’ territory for the near future at least, and from my past experience of reading Marvel’s books, that’s a hard place to maintain the readers’ interest for long periods and come away with some meaningful, satisfying conclusion. Can’t argue that many of us who have read to this point won't be curious or suspicious enough to carry on reading to see if that’s a conclusion Remender and his artists cohorts can reach though! 8/10

James R: It's a great week for Rick Remender - both of his Image titles saw their latest instalments released this week, and both of them were excellent. However, the book that I thought deserved special attention was Uncanny Avengers as slowly but surely this book has fulfilled its initial promise, and now looks and reads like a worthy successor to his brilliant Uncanny X-Force series. What's amazing here is that without spoiling the book, Remender unleashes a level of destruction that's jaw-dropping. Even though the grizzled reader will know that this isn't a permanent or definite end, it's delivered with such aplomb and drama, that you can't help but be swept along with the drama as it unfolds. It's always great to see McNiven's art - he's a perfect fit for a narrative that's full of action and eye-popping moments, and he does a fine job here. In it's early issues, the plot felt hurried, and moments like "The M-word" gave the book a strange tone - but now it's firmly in the groove, and I'm very pleased I didn't give up on this title. Jonathan Hickman is doing a great job destroying worlds in New Avengers, but Remender does it with unique aplomb. 8/10

REVENGE #1
Writer: Jonathan Ross
Art: Ian Churchill & Arif Prianto
Image $2.99

Matt C: To be honest, while I wasn’t expecting to blown away by this based on what I’d seen of this book in solicitations and the like, I was still anticipating something a little more clever, shall we say, than this. I knew there would be a certain amount of trashiness involved but this seems to veer too far into an attempt to shock by adding a plentiful supply boobs and gore to a rather generic story of, yes, revenge. Maybe Ross has something up his sleeve, some sort of rug in place to pull from under the reader, but nothing here makes me want to see where this leads as both writer and artist seem to want to dwell on the sleazier, graphic aspects of the plot to minimal effect. It almost reads like Mark Millar attempting to do a Garth Ennis comic (ie missing the point completely). That might sound like a great idea to you but there really needed to be a lot more intelligence and ingenuity in evidence hereto sustain my interest. 4/10

MIND MGMT #19
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: In a week of extraordinary comics, it was going to take something special to take my book of the week, but once again, Matt Kindt comes up with the goods in this wonderfully inventive book. In the series, the plot has developed into a battle to recruit agents as Meru and the Eraser begin to build their armies. This issue, we're introduced to Professor Agement - a magician with no love for either of the warring factions. What's remarkable about this issue though is Kindt's layering of two extra narratives over the action. As befitting a tale of misdirection, we're kept in the dark as to where we're being taken until the final page. Kindt's skill here is similar to a film editor, building the tension and mystery before leaving us with a dramatic final page. Last week I said that the Unwritten was an inventive series that had simply gone on too long, whereas Mind MGMT is the diametric opposite - there's a definite end in sight, and it's a total delight to watch this unfold. My favourite series of 2013 shows no sign of slowing up any time soon. 9/10

DEADLY CLASS #2
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

Stewart R: I only got around to reading the first issue of Deadly Class a couple of days ago on the bus ride to Paradox to pick up this week’s comics. I enjoyed the way that Remender introduced us to Marcus’ undesirable living situation, so bleak against the background of America’s bruised yet burgeoning society reacting to Reagan’s presidency and economics. He did this while maintaining a truly intriguing mystery as the young vagrant was forced to run for his life and we learned that there was something more to this bitter teenager and that it was likely to be dark and menacing. And then we ended up with the last splash page of a subterranean high school for assassins and immediately and surprisingly the sour taste was well and truly washing around the mouth. This follow up issue helps to settle the unpleasantness of that particular story twist a little as Marcus begins his time at the unique educational facility and Remender throws us the cast enmasse. Every major and cliched crime syndicate seems to get a mention and considering that Jimmie Robinson’s Five Weapons has been doing the ‘Assassin School’ idea incredibly well for Image already, this teeters on the edge of tedious repetition for a little while. What pulls it back from the edge is a combination of the writer’s ability to craft dark yet alluring characters with Wes Craig’s striking visuals. Where the aforementioned Five Weapons looks at a good guy in a bad situation with colourful mirth and a joking aversion to fatal injury, this is a very different monster, brooding, skulking and dripping with the expectation of death and disaster and I’m sticking around to see what that might look like in the context of this promising title. 8/10

HAWKEYE #15
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The release schedule of Hawkeye is an undeniable source of frustration, with the time that elapses between each issue seemingly becoming longer (and we’ve seen the last couple of issues released in the wrong order!) but when a new instalment does appear, all that frustration disappears within an instant. Simply put, this is still the best book Marvel are currently publishing; the synergy that exists between the creators results is the premier example of leftfield contemporary superhero storytelling. There's a wryness, a flipness to the proceedings that enables Fraction to frequently land sucker punches when he drops supremely effective emotional bombshells, and the ingenious layouts and panel compositions rendered by Aja , alongside some shrewd palette choices from Hollingsworth, make those detonations even more powerful. It happens at the end of this issue, with a jawdropping, brilliantly choreographed succession of captivating pages.  Not exactly a ‘monthly’ title anymore, but when you get a book of this quality, waiting a little while longer really isn’t a problem. 9/10

THE WAKE #6
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: The brief, planned hiatus over, we return to The Wake and are immediately plunged into the future and a very different, waterlogged landscape (no, I’m not talking about Somerset in the UK!). What’s instantly identifiable is Matt Hollingsworth’s distinctive shift in his pallette work as he switches from the recognisable earthy tones of the previous ‘modern day’ setting to the new futurescape basking under yellow skies with scatterings of greens and turquoises casting a very different feel to the first half of this series. Murphy gets to play with some future architecture alongside the makeshift, shanty-town scenery of mankind's survival lifestyle and I do love the way in which he builds worlds visually. I will say that in just one or two places here his facial work and inking gets a little heavy compared to his usually high consistent standards, but this is still a beautiful book. Snyder meanwhile focuses on introducing us to Merman-hunting Leeward, a capable and skilled young woman with a curious head upon her shoulders and beckoning the sort of trouble that such curiosity could spell for her in this deadly and precarious world. Yes, it is quite a stark jump from the events of #5 to this latest chapter, but Snyder, Murphy and Hollingsworth did so well in crafting the threat through that first half of the series and are such accomplished storytellers that even a brand new cast and status quo can’t shake The Wake out of the ‘must read’ section of your local comic book store. 9/10

THREE #5
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Ryan Kelly & Jordie Bellaire
Image  $2.99

Matt C: Three never really deviated too far away from templates laid down by more familiar ancient epics (Gladiator springs immediately to mind), dealing as it did with heroic sacrifices, the thirst for vengeance, the downtrodden rising up against brutal oppressors, and so on, but I think a lot of the reason this stood out was the bedrock of genuine historical research itrested upon (the backmattter bears this out). The clean lines from Kelly and punchy colouring from Bellaire are of great benefit too, and while I think this mini peaked with the last issue it still proved to be a consistent read, eschewing the full-on mythologizing of 300 for an attempt at something more authentic. 7/10

TRANSFORMERS: REGENERATION ONE #99
Writer: Simon Furman
Art: Guido Guidi, Stephen Baskerville & John-Paul Bove
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: And so here we have the penultimate comic to next month's grand finale of the Transformers comic book storyline that started some 30 years ago. The whole of this Regeneration One addition has been a whirlwind ride of nostalgia, action, destruction and intrigue as Furman has played with his very own corner of the now huge TF universe with sheer abandon and evident viciousness as he’s brought an overbearing sense of finality to proceedings. That brutality has seemed a little out of place at times considering the vast, measured history and the dozen or so separate plotlines, most of which hark back to stories and events of old, have cried out for longer and further examination without being heeded. This has led to this feeling sadly rushed as grandiose threads are cut in an unsatisfying instant in the face of an inevitable issue count deadline. While I enjoyed the reintroduction of Shockwave here, as well as the Wreckers doing what they do best, there is simply too much jumping around from pillar to post in order to fit everything in and at this juncture it really does look as if Furman (or the publisher) set himself a target of twenty issues and unfortunately discovered too late that he was seemingly laying ground work worthy of at least forty issues only five chapters into the run. It’s a shame that my current prediction has the finale capping off of a total endeavour in similarly rushed fashion and suggesting that maybe Regeneration One should have been left on the idea pile rather than put onto paper. A shame really. 4/10

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #42
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Various
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: We know this title is being ‘releaunched’ (or renumbered, to be more accurate) next week, so although we’re not seeing the back of this cast or this particular habitat, it still does feel like the end of an era (if a couple of years fits the definition of an era). For someone who made his name with Scalped - a bleak, brutal (and brilliant!) series set on an Indian Reservation – then a frequently affectionate, funny and moving series that put Wolverine as the headmaster of a new school of mutants sounded like an impossible fit, but I think if anything displays the true greatness of a writer, it’s their versatility, and Aaron’s proved that he can jump from genre to genre, tone to tone, without missing a beat. He’s chooses that old staple for saying goodbye to series by setting a good chunk of the issue in the distant future, allowing both writer and main character to reflect on what they’ve done, and if anything, what Aaron’s done in an almost stealth like manner, is add new layers to Logan’s character, putting him in a position that would have been incomprehensible a decade ago, potentially reshaping him for future writers (although he could just as easily return – or be editorially pushed – back into badass beserker mode). It’s had its dips along the way but taken as a whole this has arguably been the freshest look at mutantdom for many years, and outside Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force, possibly the best book Marvel’s had out with the letter ‘X’ in the title for the last decade or so. 8/10

James R: A fitting coda to the a fine series, Wolverine & The X-Men bows out this week with a reminder of what made this book a success. Jason Aaron gives us both the last day of term and flashing the narrative forward to the future and the last day of the Jean Grey School. Wolverine reflects on his time as Principal of the school, and whereas it's obviously a 'Possible future' (the X-men love a possible future) it's a suitably fitting one. We see the adult versions of Idie and Quentin Quire, and Aaron handles this beautifully - as a man who spends his days in the classroom, his representation of adults reflecting on their school days is absolutely spot-on. It's somewhat of a fake-out as the final two pages are a preview of Jason Latour's new series - which looks to carry on immediately after the events of this issue. I'll certainly give it a look, but to me, this feels like a great finale. The X-Men has always worked best as an allegory for our teenage years (the difficulty of fitting in in a world that doesn't understand you) and this title caught that and more. School's out, and it's nice to say that Jason Aaron has been an A-grade student. 9/10

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