28 Apr 2014

Mini Reviews 27/04/2014

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.

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, Justin Pnsor, Paco Medina, Guillermo Ortego, Dave Meikis & Juan Vlasco
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: In all honesty, I think it’s highly unlikely that this ‘prologue’ issue will have much (if any) bearing over the forthcoming Original Sin miniseries, and when you consider the $4.99 price tag, I’m sure that will come as a relief to some. It comes across as much more of a continuation of what’s been happening over in the Nova title, although I guess it may provide an introduction to Uatu The Watcher for those who may be unfamiliar with him (although if that’s what people are after they’d possibly be better served looking at the character’s Wikipedia page). So, not essential then, but as it’s got both Mark Waid and Jim Cheung at the helm, not a waste of time either. Put these guys together and it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get something that feels like it was phoned in; Waid is a master of the genre and Cheung (with the assist of Morales and Ponsor and a handful of others) knows how to craft some shiny, detailed, eye-popping visuals. It’s very much a ‘Sins of the Father’ kind of thing, and does hit its emotional beats at the right moments, so while it may not give any indication of the quality of the forthcoming miniseries, it works well enough as a standalone tale to be worthy of attention. 7/10

Stewart R: #0 issues are strange comic book creations; they have to provide something to whet the reading appetite for an imminent series or an event without actually being so all-important to be regarded as the introduction itself and essentially becoming a #1 in disguise that many readers might miss. And so here we have the #0 issue for Marvel’s summer whodunnit event, at a rather hefty $4.99 price point no less, that is actually a fairly decent standalone look at two very different characters in the Marvel Universe. I like the way that Waid carefully and slowly unfurls the mysteries of Uatu’s life via the inquisitive and kindly nature of the young Nova Corpsman, Sam, who is a fresh sprig compared to the Watcher’s ancient tree. We learn of Uatu’s people setting out to use their great power to benefit the universe, things unfortunately turning to tragedy and leading to the strange isolated existence they now lead as observers of all things. While there’s certainly nothing new to the way that this story plays out, it is handled with skill, Waid linking the two unlikely acquaintances by one shared twist of fatherly fate and the key here it seems is to cast Uatu as something of a sad soul, resolutely carrying out his unfathomable duties with (usually) silent diligence. It works to that end, with Jim Cheung’s premium art style the perfect fit to show minute changes in the Watcher’s stoic poise and expression, catching panels that echo with sadness, while contrasting this with the youthful, expressive and empathic body language of Sam. There’s certainly the argument that this is overpriced for what is delivered - surely this would have made a superb (maybe generous) Free Comic Book Day offering instead? - especially as it does seem to come across as nothing more that a small portion of broad character development for the soon-to-be-departed Watcher. That said, I certainly enjoyed the read through and the Waid/Cheung combination does make me wish they’d been brought in to carry the event itself. 7/10

James R: It's blockbuster season again. The Big Two are starting their push for our pounds and dollars with all-new series, which are (of course) 'UNMISSABLE!' And after the last issue 'NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME!' I'm now old enough to roll my eyes at these crazy superlatives, but I'm not wise enough to resist their thrall. I decided to take a look at Original Sin, as I like the idea of a series involving the Watcher (especially one masterminded by the brilliant Jason Aaron), but despite Mark Waid's plotting skills, this is an entirely superfluous comic, and at $4.99 totally not worth the price of admission. This is really just a 'Who is the Watcher?' primer fused with a slight Nova tale. If you've been reading comics for a while, there's nothing here that you don't already know. It looks lovely, with Jim Cheung doing his usual fine polished work, but it's a spectacularly uneventful read. I sincerely hope the main series has a touch more cutting edge to it, but for me, this was an expensive let-down. 5/10

Writer: W. Haden Blackman
Art: Michael Del Mundo & Marco D’Alfonso
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: While I may not have been tempted to the pick up the series there was no denying that Michael Del Mundo turned in some hugely impressive covers for the now defunct volume of X-Men Legacy. Judging by the cover to this issue, and the subsequent ones that I’ve seen previewed, it looks like he’s set to surpass his work on the former book as already he’s concocting some of the most impressive images seen on the front of a comic book in 2014. His interior work is pretty terrific too, frequently breaking loose of the traditional grid structure to create some magnificently composed pages that have a sense of enveloping fluidity about them. It reminds me of the approach employed on DC’s Batwoman when J.H. Williams III was in charge, and I suppose some of that comes from having Williams co-writer Blackman on script duties, but that comparison perhaps does Elektra a disservice, because at this stage at least it seems to be forging its own identity. A fairer description would be to say that both books appear to share a similar ethos, and although DC let William’s (and Blackman’s) vision for Batwoman eventually slip through their fingers, I feel confident that Marvel won’t make that mistake here with what just might turn out to be a very good series. 8/10

Stewart R: When you kick off a new series with a devilishly clever and incredibly striking cover like this one, from the series artist himself, you know you’re likely to be onto something good. And sure enough, the story from Blackman and the visuals from Del Mundo turn that ‘likely’ into certainty with a debut that works incredibly well as an introduction to the bloodstained life of this deadly assassin and oozes with promise of glorious fun to come. The opening salvo - shifting from flashes of the defining moments and individuals from her past life, peppered in ghostly fade between a balletic sequence that transitions into the lethal bloodletting blade skills that she has become renowned for - is simply breathtaking and leaves us with Elektra looking for an escape and a distraction from all of those previous roles and labels and the opportunity to forge her own path. That prospect brings in a suitably mysterious bounty contract which perfectly fits her need to get away from New York. As it happens, this contract coincides with the rise of a new intriguing adversary whose debut and origin is told in near identical style to the aforementioned reintroduction to Elektra seen through the first five pages. The visual parallel laid with true care upon the page is one highlight of having Del Mundo finally working on Marvel interiors. His painting style and colour use is captivating, drawing you back into panels and pages at the point you might have thought you were moving on to the next and I cannot wait to see what else he brings to this series. Book of the Week by far and yet another success for the All-New Marvel NOW! 9/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: Another month, another outstanding issue of Mind MGMT. I'd love this book for the plot alone - Matt Kindt's tale of a shadowy government agency filled with people who have supernatural abilities is a great enough hook - but Kindt continues to do something remarkable with almost every issue. I love any comic that stretches the conventions of the medium and Kindt is doing exactly that here and single-handedly to boot. This month the issue is 'silent' - there's not a word of dialogue spoken - but we are privy to every character's thoughts as two fast and intense scenes play out. Weaved into this is a mini-story, 'The Second Floor', which begins in the inside cover and is then recalled in the final two pages. Many comics creators would stretch 'The Second Floor' out into a story arc, or even a series in it's own right, but for Matt Kindt it's just another phenomenal footnote in an extraordinary series. I make no secret of my view that the best comics being made today are those books which are creator-owned, and amongst some exceptional books Mind MGMT still stands out. This remains my favourite comic being published today, and I can't see that changing until the book's finale. 9/10

LETTER 44 #6
Writer:Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque & Dan Jackson
Oni Press $3.99

Stewart R: Half a year in and Letter 44 is bounding along rather nicely it must be said. Soule has found that perfect balance of earth-bound political thriller swapping back and forth with deep-space survival adventure that makes every issue an exciting prospect. This particular chapter feels like something of a pause for breath and a chance to stretch as the crew of the Clarke celebrate and mourn the recent events that have befallen them through a short space of time, whilst postulating on their latest discoveries. Meanwhile, back on the third rock from the sun, President Stephen Blades continues to tackle his term in office from an offensive position, looking to take hold of the reigns and stymie any threats or parties that may be working to derail his government and the project to prepare for alien contact. The whole boxing analogy that Soule brings to the piece between the present and former Presidents is highly entertaining and gives the reader even further cause to root for this powerful, yet isolated protagonist, while the introduction of a new character out in the reaches of space seems to suggest that the Clarke and her crew might just be in for a bumpy time of it in the very near future. We’ll just have to see whether the biggest problems turn out to be situated a few thousand kilometres outside the hull or perhaps at the heart of the small group of personnel instead. Always a satisfying read, Letter 44 is a guaranteed fix on my pull-list. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Mike McKone & Marcelo Maiolo
DC Comics $3.99

James R: I wanted to love this book, I really did. I love Jeff Lemire's work for Vertigo and his Independent stuff, but I've found his mainstream stuff a little hit-and-miss. For every Animal Man, there's been a Justice League Dark, and so I hoped that on this grand title we'd see all his myriad strengths. He doesn't do badly at all - it's a tidy plot, and it's refreshing to see Lemire's choices for the team. I also like Lemire's stellar setting for the vast majority of the book, and it's great to see Adam Strange being re-introduced to the DCU. So why am I so ambivalent about this issue? Firstly, it's McKone's art - it's not a great fit for the title, and after picking up a few other titles this week with equally galactic backdrops, it doesn't really stand up well by comparison. Secondly, for a writer of Lemire's talent I was expecting a little more innovation and creativity. I always want a first issue to have something in it that grabs me and insists that I come back for more. Sadly, I didn't get that feeling from Justice League United. It may yet develop and grow, however this first issue was sadly lacking in sparkle. 5/10

Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Joe Infurnari
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: The transition from its digital beginnings is clearly working in The Bunker’s favour as the increased page count allows Fialkov to extract much more from each chapter of the story he’s telling. This issue’s all about how perception, and how an individual’s take on a sequence of events can be coloured by the extent of their knowledge and understanding of what’s occurring, and how hindsight can alter completely how a situation is perceived. This is quite crucial to this tale, as it’s incorporating elements of time travel, and clearly the idea of looking back at past deeds (and misdeeds) and wishing you could change them is central to what Fialkov’s trying to say with The Bunker. Now Infurnari’s illustrating full colour rather than black and white he’s got the tools to give him more control of the emotional timbre of the piece, emphasising various hues where required and then withdrawing the colour to the bare minimum to give certain panels an extra punch. The Bunker was something special in its short, sharp digital bursts, and now it’s expanded in length it’s starting to shine even more brightly. 9/10

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