20 Apr 2014

Mini Reviews 20/04/2014

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.

TRANSLUCID #1
Writer: Claudio Sanchez & Chondra Echert
Art: Daniel Bayliss
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: What’s that you say? Another comic book series focused on a Batman analogue?! Have people run out of ideas or something?? It’s easy to be dismissive of such a well-worn device in the genre; on a superficial level, peddling variations of iconic characters doesn’t really push things forward a great deal, but I guess what makes these types of tales so popular is that they allow creators to explore different aspects of a ‘familiar’ character, taking that character in directions that the Big Two would never go for with any of their most recognisable brands. In that sense, these stories are entirely necessary because, as much as we love the adventures of the Caped Crusader within his editorially sanctioned parameters, when a smart idea is given room to breathe – as it is in Translucid – the results can be very arresting indeed. Ironic then, that the robust, dynamic art comes from Daniel Bayliss, who provided the technically impressive illustrations for that juvenile Batman: The Deal fan fiction web comic that caused a lot of fuss (for all the wrong reasons) last year. It’s great that he’s been given the opportunity to show what he can do with a decent script, which he does here with style. The notion of an archnemesis aware that he exists to spur the hero on to do the right thing is a very strong one, and the writers appear to be well equipped to explore it further. There are still fresh angles from which to view a character based loosely on the Dark Knight, and the guys behind Translucid definitely seem to have found a very enticing one. 8/10

BATMAN #30
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki & Fco Plascencia
DC $3.99

James R: I am still standing by my claim that Joe Casey's Sex is the best Batman book being published (despite not actually featuring Batman of course) but credit where due - in a very quiet week for my pull-list, I have to hand the plaudits to Snyder and Capullo for their work on the Dark Knight. A quick flick through this issue will show you why this title remains firmly fixed atop the bestsellers list - it delivers a lot of what you'd want from a mainstream comic. Earlier this week, Scott Snyder tweeted something about the collaborative process - which oddly echoed my thoughts on Iron Fist last week - and it’s manifest in this issue. Snyder said: "I love when artists I trust goes off-loading with scripts a bit. The stuff that comes back is always much better than what was there." In this issue, you can really see how Greg Capullo positions and fashions the action to increase the tension, giving it a 'blockbuster' feel. The plot itself has echoes of The Dark Knight Rises with Gotham on lockdown by the Riddler (who is finally being portrayed as a character of suitable threat and menace) and while I still don't feel like its breaking new ground, what it does, it does very well. In a week of slim pickings, sometimes a classy Batman issue is enough to see me through. 8/10

X-MEN #13
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Paul Mounts, Phile Briones & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: After a swift three-part start to this series, things were followed by a longer, competent arc from Wood that showed us the very fluid shape of this team as the various members struggled to find their place within the dynamic. With the ladies of Storm’s X-Men carrying some physical and plenty of psychological issues from their encounters with John Sublime and his deadly sister, Arkea, things seem to point towards a period of high tension at the Jean Grey School as a mysterious new threat emerges. I am enjoying how Wood continues to keep Jubilee’s guardianship of baby Shogo as a prime plot thread and the danger now approaching looks set to be primarily focussed on this new family unit. As ever, Wood is balancing all character elements well, giving page time to each member of the team and making every conversation and interaction feel important to the overall progression of the story. Clay Mann’s art was the more impressive of the examples on display through the last half dozen issues and I’m really happy to see him given the main pencilling job here, showing he can excel in something of a quieter issue from an action standpoint. The 'Bromo-Superior' backup strip is a fun alternative to the female-focussed thrust of the main story with Briones showing that he’s got the illustrative chops to potentially pick up the reigns for a shot at a whole issue at some stage soon. I suspect some may have bailed when the last arc wrapped up in #12, but the 'Blood Lines' arc looks very promising indeed. 8/10

MERCENARY SEA #3
Writer: Kel Symons
Art: Mathew Reynolds
Image $2.99

Matt C: It’s a difficult thing to get the balance right when crafting a period pulp adventure tale in this day and age. Setting the tone too far in one direction can have it coming across as jokey, landing it more in the realms of spoofery; too far in the other direction and it becomes too serious, sucking out the fun, which is kind of missing the point. Fortunately, Mercenary Sea doesn’t deviate from its core purpose: generating thrills and spills on the high seas in the 1930s, weaving in various genre staples and presenting them in fashion that’s immediately compelling and exhilarating. Symons takes familiar character archetypes and imbues them with roguish charm while Reynolds excels at producing evocative images, his use of silhouettes and specific colour palettes making a substantial impact. Mercenary Sea is turning out to be exactly the kind of blast of old fashioned adventuring that I’d hoped it would be. 8/10

MS.MARVEL #3
Writer: G.Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: As a middle-aged man (yes, I know) I’m well outside of the demographic for this comic book, but the key to its appeal is that it transcends easy pigeonholing by speaking to its audience on a universal level, connecting through recognisable feelings and emotions. Teenage alienation, outsider blues… something most of us can relate to (or at least recall), and Wilson taps captures these things brilliantly, dousing it all in wit so it doesn’t become a slog, which is something that Alphona conveys with his energetic, personable artistry. A superbly orchestrated 21st century superhero origin story in the making. 8/10

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #2
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: It's a tough thing to make a comic scary. Films? Sure. Books? Not a problem . But comics? It's hard to convey that sense of unease that other mediums find comes hand-in-hand with the way we consume them. It's a definite salute then to Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque for making American Vampire, if not scary, then just downright creepy. There's certainly a sense of escalation about the book since its return. Here we get an awful lot more about the Vassals and their ongoing conflict with the Carpathian vampires, but most importantly, we learn and see more of the Grey Trader. His appearance - and the art from Albuquerque - was one of the most unsettling things I'd read in a while. As to his identity? Well, at this point it may be a ruse from Snyder, or he really is going all out in Second Cycle. I won't reveal it here, but it's something that could give the book a whole other dimension. Good or bad, I think it's too early to say, but for the moment, it's still great to have American Vampire back, creeps and all. 7/10

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