6 Apr 2014

Mini Reviews 06/04/2014

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.

CALIBAN #1
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Facundo Percio, Sebastian Cabrol & Hernan Cabrera
Avatar $3.99

James R: I had to overcome a bit of prejudice in picking this up. I freely admit to not being the biggest fan of Avatar Press - I feel their house style is 'gore and breasts for the sake of it', and given the massive strides comics have made in the last twenty years in gaining mainstream acceptance, Avatar often publishes books which appear to be appealing to the lowest common denominator. However, for every Lady Death they publish, there's also the occasional gem: the original Crossed, or Alan Moore's Neonomicon for example. I'm pleased that I took a gamble on Caliban, as on the evidence of this first issue, it's definitely Garth Ennis in good form. Channelling a very British SF sensibility (the gritty feel of Alien and Event Horizon spring to mind) Ennis introduces us to a near future where humanity is exploring deep space, but rather than exploring strange new worlds, we are continuing to exploit the environments of alien-free planets. We're told that there is no other intelligent life 'out there'… until a hyperspace collision fuses the industrial ship Caliban with an alien craft. This is very much an introductory issue, but it set the mood perfectly, intriguing me throughout. A solid start, and a welcome addition to my pull-list. 8/10

Matt C: From a surface perspective, this is unquestionably very derivative. You’ll be reminded of similar journeys aboard the Nostromo, or even the Lewis and Clark, and can probably imagine Ridley Scott lurking in the background, bringing it all to vibrant life. So we don’t appear to be treading unfamiliar ground at this stage then, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that this is an expertly paced, atmospheric debut issue that certainly grabs the attention. And yes, it’s worthwhile remembering it’s Garth Ennis at the helm, and while he does approach familiar genre territory from time to time, he has an impressive knack of looking at things from a fresh angle – it may not be immediately apparent, but if you stick with him the chances are you’ll be genuinely surprised (I’m thinking Crossed here as the most obvious recent example). The art’s not too flashy and generates a certain gloomy ambience that suggests horrific things may be on the horizon, and if that’s the case, I can’t think of anyone better than Ellis to take us along for the ride. 8/10

BLACK SCIENCE #5
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Matteo Scalera & Dean White
Image $3.50

James R: Last week, I mentioned that Rick Remender's Deadly Class was a slow burn - a comic that was definitely building month by month. Black Science on the other hand, is an absolute supernova. From the first page of the first issue, this book has been awesome in every department. There's so much to love here, but this month I want to highlight Remender's pacing - as someone who remembers the 'decompressed' plotting of the early Noughties, it's immensely refreshing to read a comic that barrels forward at such breakneck pace. After the tease of a mysterious character on the trail of Grant McCay in the last issue, we waste no time in not only revealing his identity, but having it drive the plot, keeping the readership on their toes. In his comments in the letters page, Remender states that there isn't a big difference between science fiction comics and superhero comics - it's the voice of the characters that's important. He makes a convincing point, but there's something about science fiction that just seems to fit Remender perfectly. Our recent 'Top 15' poll showed just how much we're all digging this book - a solid gold smash in every respect. 9/10

BAD BLOOD #4
Writer: Jonathan Maberry
Art: Tyler Crook
Dark Horse $3.99

Stewart R: This miniseries continues to pound on nicely, without seeming to feel the need to avoid vampire cliché too much, instead making those tried and tested story dynamics and ingredients work in a 21st Century setting. I’m enjoying how Maberry has used the hibernation of the pointy-toothed apex predator to highlight a major weakness of theirs while also showing that for these human protagonists, the advantages that they carry are monumental obstacles to be overcome at the same time. Trick and Lolly’s increasing proficiency at dispatching vampires is nicely documented with falls and failures punctuated along the way, and it’s well played out alongside the conquering of their own demons. Crook does a fine job of weaving the various montages and fight sequences in and amongst the greater exposition as we start to learn a little more about the legacy of the battle between vampire and human in this world and this issue highlights the artist’s knack for a comedic touch as well as capturing the sombre drama. There’s a twist in the tail to #4 that has you wondering whether it is a twist indeed and the whole up-in-the-air nature of where this might conclude makes #5 an unmissable prospect. 8/10

MOON KNIGHT #2
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: And just like that, Warren Ellis reminds us why he’s a master of the medium. It’s not an especially complex issue, with ‘Moon Knight tracking down an assassin following multiple murders’ pretty much summing up the contents, but it’s how the trio of Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire approach this straightforward plot, utilizing the comic book format to tell the story in a very specific, unique way, that sets it apart from the norm. Basically, you couldn’t replicate the cumulative effect of the panel sizing and positioning here in any other medium. Ellis has shown us before that he has an implicit understanding of how to fashion a comic page to produce the requisite drama, emotion and excitement, and the art team take his direction to create a succession of images that generates an unstoppable momentum throughout the entire issue. Yes, you could easily swap Moon Knight for Batman here and it wouldn’t make a difference to the outcome, but it’s the magnificent execution of a simple idea that’s the star of the show, underlying the validity of comics as an essential, distinctive method of storytelling delivery. Exceptional work. 9/10

DETECTIVE COMICS #30
Writers: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
DC $3.99

James R: I wanted to like this, I really did. I have a lot of admiration for the Manapul and Buccellato team - looking back over their first arc on Flash, they did some staggering stuff, and I think it's sad that (excuse the pun) their run seemed to lose momentum. The announcement that they were taking over Detective Comics certainly made me sit up and take notice. I've been very vocal here about my disconnect from the Bat-titles of late, and any creators that might give the Dark Knight a shot in the arm will be welcomed by me. Unfortunately though, this first issue is just indicative of why Batman is feeling a little tired of late. Bruce Wayne meets a new investor, who is keen to redevelop the East End Waterfront with the help of Wayne Enterprises - but is she all that she seems? And is she somehow tied in to the nefarious goings on at the waterfront? No prizes for guessing that the answers are 'No' and 'Yes'! It's a tale I've read a million times before. I know that there will be a generation for whom this all feels new, and I genuinely hope they enjoy it, but the deja vu here was overpowering for me. The experience was made even more awkward by the crowbarring of Damien Wayne's death into the narrative. It still makes no sense to me that during the five years - five years! – that we've supposedly had the Batman from Scott Snyder's New 52 run, he’s had two Robins under his tutelage before discovering Damien Wayne, then doing the whole Batman Inc thing… it's just madness! I won't start my whole rant about narrative consistency again, but here it absolutely pulled me out of the story. On the plus side, it looks as exquisite as you'd expect from this talented creative team. All told, it's like a meal that looks like it's from a Michelin star restaurant, only to taste like a horsemeat lasagne when you take a bite. 6/10

PRETTY DEADLY #5
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Emma Rios
Image $3.50

Stewart R: And just like the tumbleweed rolling across the prairie, this first arc of Pretty Deadly has flown by in an instant. This finale seems to move along quicker than any of the preceding chapters as it happens, and considering that this was planned as an ongoing from the outset it surprised me a little, feeling almost as if we were on the rush to ensure everything was tied up here when perhaps just one more issue would have given generous breathing room. Events unfold with lightning speed and while my attention and heart is, and it has always been, pulled towards Sissy and Fox’s roles in this story I have to admit that I’ve found it difficult to gauge and follow the parts that Johnny, Ginny and others have to play in the greater scheme, often wondering if I missed an important couple of panels maybe a chapter or two back which added more character points and fully explained the strange relationships and grudges held between all of the parties. Rios’ art has occasionally added to my confusion, yet made it bearable with some beautifully crafted pages that stun the eyes, if still failing to fully lift my befuddlement. That continues to be the case with this issue where she delivers some immense splash pages and beguiling fantasy visuals. And that’s the hook with Pretty Deadly; while it has entertained and then bemused in equal measure it’s certainly a unique series indeed, one that has screamed of high quality at regular intervals and has me now contemplating just where the previous four issues are so I can dive back through once again and try to fully understand all that these talented creators have set upon the page. Like so many things in life, Pretty Deadly is beautifully flawed and I’m looking forward to more. 7/10

TRILLIUM #8
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & José Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: The conclusion of Trillium isn’t exactly surprising – and some may accuse it of being predictable – but for those who’ve been won over by its effective, inventive mix of sci-fi and romance should find it entirely satisfying. As he’s proven before, particularly in Sweet Tooth, Jeff Lemire is expertly equipped at getting directly to the emotional core of his characters, and it’s something that intelligent plotting and a playful approach to the format can’t distract from. His stories work because we deeply care about the individuals he writes about, and Trillium is no exception. 8/10

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