4 May 2014

Mini Reviews 04/05/2014

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.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1
Writers: Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Joe Caramagna, Peter David & Chris Yost
Art: Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado & Various
Marvel $5.99


Stewart R: This is a hard issue to review if I’m honest; for your six bucks you get around 20-odd pages of Amazing Spider-Man proper, with Slott, Ramos and Co. dropping Peter back into a life that seems so familiar to him, yet has changed quite drastically in the space of a few short, Otto Octavius-steered months. It’s certainly nice to have the light-hearted comedy that comes with Peter’s bumbling, yet accomplished heroics back on the table and there’s a sense of welcome nostalgia as we read his inner monologue from situation to new situation. There are clearly many plot threads that Slott has at his disposal for the coming months to increase the drama and the laughs, with Jameson’s current position being the most open-ended and intriguing at this point. As a kick off point there’s clearly a lot going here for new readers looking to jump on with enough backstory explained by Slott through Peter's own learning experience. Then we get six additional Spider-Man related stories and strips to contend with. The Electro-focussed update seems like a shameless tie-in for the new movie and we should probably expect that, while Black Cat’s recent history in 'Crossed Paths' is far more interesting as Slott steers her towards delicious antagonistic territory. The Caramagna and Eliopoulos concocted 'How My Stuff Works' is throwaway cartoon fun and the skits looking at Spider-Man 2099 and Kaine are reasonable efforts, yet smack of advertising to - IN A BOOK COSTING YOU $5.99 NO LESS!! - spend more money on vaguely-related titles. Adding a little insult to injury is the inclusion of Inhuman #1 in the back, a book I and many of you paid a full $3.99 for just over a month ago. That’s 25 pages of the entire count used to reprint something I’ve already got and have no need or inclination to reread; a quarter of the entire page count, and less than was given over to the ACTUAL story of Amazing Spider-Man #1! Slott and Ramos’ work will get an 8/10 from me as it is a neat reintroduction for Peter and does work as a good jumping on point for new readers, but the rest of the book, with the exception of the Black Cat piece, feels like cynical Marvel marketing wrapped up in something of a paper-based mugging for regular Spider-Man readers with no printed alternative available to this bulky effort. All at a time when more of the publisher's new books are finding the $3.99 entry point. As a solid, total product I’d likely give this only 5/10.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour
Image $3.50

Matt C: It’s doesn’t appear like this will be quite as bleak as Scapled, but it definitely sees Aaron in the same hardboiled mindset, and as someone who considers Scapled to be one of the premier comic book series of the 21st century, that’s something I welcome with open arms. This debut issue is all about easing us into Earl Tubb’s return to his hometown after many, many years, but it gives us a sense of the kind of Southern-fried, shit-kicking mayhem that’s on the horizon. You can tell it’ll be one of those tales where a man gets drawn deeper into a dangerous situation against his better judgement, his sense of righteousness taking over, and as illustrated by Latour with grizzled intensity, it’s fairly irresistible. Once again, Image gives us our next new favourite comic. 9/10

James R: The Deep South is really on my cultural radar this year - after Nic Pizzolato's astonishing TV series True Detective, in which the South was portrayed so distinctly it's almost a character in it's own right, there is now Jason Aaron and Jason Latour's magnificently titled, and frankly terrific, Southern Bastards. The plot sees Jason Aaron very much in Scalped mode, introducing us to a shady world filled with violence and the shadows of the past. Earl Tubb returns home to Craw County to initially tidy up his ailing uncle's affairs, but in doing so is brought face to face with his past, and that of his legendary lawman father, Bertrand Tubb, and it's not long before we discover that Craw County is under the influence of the shadowy Coach Boss. It's an incredibly evocative opening chapter that really gives the reader a taste of a place that Jason Aaron says is "A place you can love and hate and miss and fear all at the same time." Some opening issues grab you from the off with a dazzling sense of something new and different. Southern Bastards does something different; it pulls you in with the promise of two creators working at the top of their respective games, and with a palpable sense that they know this world inside out. A definite and welcome add to my pull-list, and a must for all sophisticated readers. 8/10

GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS ANNUAL #2
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Stephen Segovia, Edgar Salazar, Jed Dougherty, Jason Paz, Jason Gardner, Andrew Dalhouse & Hi-Fi
DC $4.99

Stewart R: One of only two surviving DC titles on my pull-list, New Guardians has been developing the aftermath of Kyle Rayner’s actions at the Source Wall, seeing the hero’s powers shift and grow while Justin Jordan has been moving the relationship between Kyle and Carol in a similar manner. In this larger annual format, Jordan finally brings these two important things in Kyle’s life to a critical juncture and it’s pretty good all told. The writer appears to have a firm idea of how Carol and Kyle’s friendship has turned into something more and uses that connection to push on the intriguing plot as Kyle’s doppelganger begins to create reality shifting headaches (and much more) on Earth. Okay, so the plot involving a mirror/dark version of a hero is plucked clean from the box of most used comic book premises - and Jordan is going to have to tread a very careful line to ensure that Oblivion doesn’t come across as being a twist on the Black Lanterns - but there’s something about the way in which Oblivion is written almost as an innocent victim, trying to put right a universal wrong and feeling misunderstood and confused by the opposition he’s facing. Segovia’s art is top grade and he sells the warped reality image with haunting, horror effect which definitely helps to raise the tension, but then DC stumble once again into that usual problem of getting in other artists to deliver the last few pages. That really does kill off the visual continuity as the replacements aren’t on a par with Segovia and the emotion of the finale here is tarnished ever so slightly by this editorial/publishing misstep. The bosses’ blunder aside, Jordan is giving us a fine Green Lantern ride every month and for once I didn’t mind the price bump from DC in order to see what this talented writer had in store. 7/10

ORIGIN II #5
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Adam Kubert, Frank Martin & Rain Beredo
Marvel  $3.99

Matt C: Although I’m sure Marvel desperately wanted the first Origin miniseries to achieve classic status I don’t think anyone would say that it made it to that level. It was good rather than great, most memorable for providing Wolverine with an actual past and, as the title suggested, an origin story that would become definitive. It was successful enough at the time and had its moments that seared onto the consciousness (especially the first reveal of the bone claws) but surprisingly, while it was somewhat inevitable, a sequel has taken over a decade to appear.  That sequel’s now concluded, and while it would be unfair to call it a poorly conceived, it ultimately felt utterly superfluous. It’s a tale that didn’t really need telling, that didn’t feel like it added anything particularly worthwhile to the mythos that hadn’t already been ticked off elsewhere.  It’s handsomely presented, with some potent art from Kubert, but you’re left wondering if, after such a long wait, this is the particular avenue that required exploring considering the potential this character’s singular history offers to a writer. 5/10

X-FORCE #4
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jorge Molina
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: As Spurrier pushes the search for nefarious Russian billionaire and mutant threat Volga onwards, it seems as though he’s going to get a little time to focus on a different member of the team each issue in order to give us a better idea of the current status quo, the individual motives for being part of Cable’s plans and the demons that each X-Force member may be currently struggling with. Last time it was Psylocke and so this issue the wheel spins onto the enigmatic Fantomex. I’ll admit that of all of the cast, it was Spurrier’s early handling of the Weapon Plus product that had me a little concerned as the French accent filled each dialogue bubble in strangely jarring contrast to how he’d been depicted before. With this prime Fantomex chapter though, it’s becoming a little easier to see what Spurrier is doing with the skilled assassin, cutting straight to the neurosis and doubt that the possession of multiple brains and personalities, as well as a nanite-controlled sense of self worth and ego, can have on a being. Where Rick Remender previously only hinted at the troubles lurking beneath Jean Phillipe’s cool surface in his work, Spurrier dives in with gusto, introducing E.V.A. as something of a subconscious therapist as the two dissect a recent team mission - which highlights a few of Fantomex’s physical limits on the way - and leave us with an unpredictable element within X-Force’s ranks. This as a subplot should make things very interesting as the series progresses. The art from Molina is clean, animated and works very well when jumping back and forth between the action and the interior analysis taking place. Plus, where else are you likely to find a writer sewing a Pepe Le Pew riff so well into the damn narrative? 8/10

BLACK SCIENCE #6
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Matteo Scalera & Dean White
Image $3.50

Matt C: From the very first issue, this series has rattled along at a relentless pace, barely pausing for breath as the characters hop from dimension to dimension, and this final instalment of the introductory arc is no different. There’s something almost hyperactive about the way Remender tells his tale, every frantic moment essential to advancing the narrative, and Scalera imbues each panel with a kinetic energy that nearly replicates the physical sensation of movement in the mind. What is different this time is that Remender starts to toy with our preconceived notions of who the heroes of the piece actually are. In fact, based on what goes on in this issue, it’s probably fair to say he’s been doing that from the start. Without getting into spoiler territory, it’s worth remembering that everyone believes they’re the hero of their own adventures. Bold, challenging and genuinely thrilling, Black Science grips like a vice and doesn’t let go. 9/10

James R: It's just as well that Black Science is taking a break for a couple of months - I think it's going to take me that long to recover from the intense and relentless pace of this brilliant series. Those of us who are familiar with Remender's work won't be surprised by his seemingly terminal plot lines (or with his myriad ways of reversing them) but in Black Science, they feel even more drastic. This issue, Grant McKay and the treasonous Kadir fight through another alien (yet familiar) world in a conflict that acts as a mirror to the first issue. There, Remender set the bar for this series, combining a breathless plot with some brilliant SF ideas. Here, it's a similar recipe, but with the extra kick of a truly shocking finale. It really helps that Matteo Scalera's art is the perfect fit for this quicksilver narrative, his style incorporating frenetic lines and ingeniously designed worlds. I've been telling people to pick this book up since issue one, and I've yet to have anyone come back and say, "Nah, didn't enjoy it." For me, Black Science embodies comics at their very best, and alongside Mind MGMT and Lazarus represent the very apex of the medium. July can't come round soon enough - I can't wait for Remender, Scalera and White to take my breath away again! 9/10

DEADLY CLASS #4
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Jeez, every issue of Deadly Class throws something completely different and unexpected our way and the reader’s journey is nearly as mind-expanding/bewildering as the haze thrown up by substances the cast end up consuming on their impromptu road trip here. I have to say, I’m loving the way that Remender is pulling us from pillar to post and keeping us on our toes as we learn a little more about Marcus and the crazy life he’s leading through the 1980s. This is a whacked-out bundle of fun as the kids all try to make out that they’re in control of the ride, egos brimming with false confidence as it begins to feel that this team outing - based on murderous intention, yet brilliantly surrounded with teen bonding sentiment - may be barreling on of its own accord with them just holding on as tight as they can as it speeds up. The two known threats heading on a crash course to Vegas add a needed level of menace to the hippy-infused, acid-tripping fun and Craig and Loughridge combine for one hell of a visual roller-coaster. A dark joy from start to finish. 9/10

STAR WARS: REBEL HEIST #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Marco Castiello & Gabe Eltaeb
Dark Horse $3.50

James R: As much as I love Star Wars - and happy May the 4th by the way - and as much as I love comics, I've never found a Star Wars omit that I really like. Despite Dark Horse's heroic efforts down through the years, none of the comics have ever quite felt like Star Wars. Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that the series is so iconic that comics don't quite match the epic, cinematic feel of the movies. I was willing to give this series a try though; the name Matt Kindt alone ensured my interest, as his superb creator-owned series Mind MGMT is my current favourite ongoing series. Kindt's miniseries aims to show an original trilogy-era plot from the perspective not of the iconic heroes or villains, but from the perspective of 'Regular Joes' alongside them. We've seen this done before in Kurt Busiek's Marvels, but it's still a smart choice from Kindt. The opening chapter focuses on the galaxy's finest scoundrel, Han Solo, and Kindt does a fine job of capturing the essence of the character (and he provides a great cover too!). My main reservation is with Marco Castiello's pencils - he does a passable job of capturing Harrison Ford's likeness, but his art don't quite evoke the Star Wars universe. It's a fine effort all told though, and at four issues it's an affordable indulgence. 7/10

2 comments:

Tim Knight said...

Agree wholeheartedly with Stewart's assessment of ASM #1.

I'd been really looking forward to a chunky issue re-introducing Peter Parker to the world, but as I read through the subsequent stories (except for the Black Cat one) I did feel increasingly cheated, especially with the wodge of a random other comic reprinted in the back, taking up the page count (and no doubt adding to the steep cover price).

Badger said...

Haven't read Amazing Spider-Man #1 yet as I'm playing catch up with my comics [6 months behind]but it sounds like Marvels usually rip off,but I did make a point of reading Southern Bastards and I'll say not a bad start but I've read this kind of thing before,lone wolf returns home gets drawn into all the crap going on and then cleans up the town,would maybe have worked better as a western,but I can see this going the same way as Scalped which I dropped after getting bored with it,guess I'm just not a sophisticated reader.....thank God.