18 May 2014

Mini Reviews 18/05/2014

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.

AVENGERS #29
Writer: Jonthan Hickman
Art: Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Sunny Gho
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: This feels more like a thematic tie-in to Original Sin rather than a direct one as it builds on the plotlines Hickman has been working on in Avengers and New Avengers since the beginning of his run. If anything, it’s more likely that the events here will feed into Original Sin rather than the other way around. An extended issue, the first few pages recaps what we’ve seen before, which might appear like a rip-off if the material wasn’t as strong as it is, and the way Hickman leads it into the inevitable confrontation works extremely well. It does skirt quite close to the clash of ideologies at the heart of Civil War, but it feels more organic here than it did there, Hickman yet again playing the long game to great effect. Yu’s art style has grown on me in the past few years, from the point of being something I didn’t really care for to something that I can really appreciate in the correct context. The cliffhanger is an exciting one, and although I haven’t heard anything to suggest it’s the case, it does seem like Hickman is zeroing on his endgame. 8/10

STARLIGHT #3
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Goran Parlov & Ive Svorcina
Image $2.99

James R: After my initial Mark Millar-based prejudice and scepticism about Starlight, I'm happy to be proven wrong for another issue of this series. Millar and Parlov's elderly Flash Gordon analogue touches down on Tantalus and immediately sets about standing up to the Broteans… with very mixed results. Millar has shown through the years that he's great at subverting pop culture expectations, and here is no different - rather than immediately galvanising the people of Tantalus into revolution, he's quickly thrown in jail, and all who cheered his response are executed by the malevolent (and magnificently titfered) Lord Kingfisher. As always with Millar, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop - I sense that there has to be a twist in this tale, but in terms of pacing, characterisation and world-building, this issue felt on the money. My only criticism is of Goran Parlov's otherwise excellent illustration; Millar repeatedly describes Tantalus as having been 'ravaged' by the Broteans, but Parlov draws it pretty similarly to the world we glimpsed at the opening of issue #1. It's a minor quibble, as otherwise his art remains a perfect fit for a tale inspired by pulp SF, and I remain pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying this book. 8/10

AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #4
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Kev Walker, Jason Gorder & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’ll admit that Hopeless has had to be very careful in how he steered the early stages of Avengers Undercover to allow the whole Masters of Evil premise to feel ‘right’ and not too jarring following on from Avengers Arena. This particular piece of storytelling shows just how on the ball he’s been with his planning, pulling the group of tormented teens from pillar to post in the course of just 20 pages and finally putting them in front of Baron Zemo’s offer with it all making sense. Hopeless has given each of these young characters a very specific voice, the arguing, taunting and bickering is spot-on and he manages to jump from protagonist to protagonist with perfect timing to push the plot onwards effortlessly. Turning to Cammy here is a prime example, her ethical, determined stance and sensible head the fine foil to the headstrong voices in the group and the obvious questioning obstacle to Zemo’s offer to the group. Even the Master of Evil himself is a multidimensional voice of perspective and reason here, throwing up a definition of the hero/villain landscape that paints things in far greyer terms than we might have expected. The art’s as tidy and immersive as ever from Walker and on the whole this is shaping up to possibly be more intriguing that Arena was. 8/10

THINK TANK: FUN WITH PTSD #1
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Rahsan Ekedal
Image/Top Cow $4.99

Matt C: It seems churlish to criticise this seeing as how 25¢ of every issue sold is going to the Wounded Warrior Project, and it does a good job of elucidating on what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder actually entails, but as an instalment of Think Tank it doesn’t quite match up to the kind of quality we’re used to. It feels a little too overtly issue led, and as a part of the ongoing narrative of David Loren it doesn’t come across as being particularly essential. Again, it’s for a good cause and all that, and fans will probably want to pick it up not only for the story but for the sheer joy of reading Hawkins’ incisive and extensive ‘Science Class’, but those curious about the series would be best served starting from the beginning rather than dipping into this to see what they’re missing. 6/10

NEW AVENGERS #18
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Valero Schiti & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: Quit stallin' for time, Hickman! We know you're holding' out on us! Okay, okay - let me dial back on the whole 'Bad Cop' routine, but for me, this issue of New Avengers felt like an awful lot of padding. I feel I should point out that I love Hickman's work (and once again, you should all be reading East Of West) and I know that he plans everything meticulously, but this month New Avengers feels like five pages of material stretched out to twenty pages. It's a catch-up issue that allows us to see what some of the ongoing plot stands have been, but it barely pushes the story forward at all. Case in point is the interminable Black Panther sequence in the middle of the book where T'Challa seeks the counsel of his ancestors for eight pages. Conclusion? "I will do what I must!" I loved the last issue with the very obvious JLA analogues from another Earth preparing to fight the Avengers and was looking forward to seeing it play out this month. However, it seems we now have to wait until next month. You could call that delayed gratification, but for me it was an exercise in frustration. 6/10

FANTASTIC FOUR #4
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Karl Kesel, Jay Leisten & Jesus Aburtov
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: There’s nothing inherently wrong with this book – Robinson has a decent grasp of the family dynamic, the art’s effective if unspectacular – but after four issues I’ve hit the point where I don’t see any justifiable reason for it to stay on my pull-list. When you’ve read as many Fantastic Four comics as I had (which isn’t a boast – I’ve just seen a few Christmases!) you can sort of sense where formula takes over from ingenuity. This is a standard FF tale that ticks all of the boxes in a sense, and it’ll hold plenty of entertainment value for many, but I think, as a longtime reader, when you’ve seen it all before you find yourself wanting to see something ‘new’. Not necessarily a reinvention of the wheel, but coming at things from a not-so-familiar angle. Hickman managed it most recently, and while I will say there’s something reassuring, something comfortable, about Robinson’s approach, there’s that little extra ingredient that’s missing, that element that either feels new or provides an effective remix of something I’ve seen before. Not bad but it looks like it’ll get lost in the crowd eventually. 6/10

THE BOUNCE #12
Writer: Joe Casey
Artists: David Messina & Claudia Scarletgothica
Image $2.99

James R: And so we come to the end of Joe Casey's 'Slacker Spidey on DMT' tale. I've absolutely loved this one-two punch alongside his riff on Batman in Sex, and whereas that title continues to power forward, The Bounce signs off here after twelve great issues. If anything, the resolution was far neater than I was expecting from Casey. It would be tempting to say that the tale of Jasper Jenkins finishes on an optimistic, upbeat note, but the final pages hint at a more challenging subtext. Once again, David Messina's pencil work was terrific, and the psychedelic climax over four pages wasn't quite Kirbyesque, but it was suitably epic. It is great to see Casey on such fine form at the moment - in an era where superheroes have been embraced so completely by mainstream media, it's good to know that Casey remains one step ahead of the curve. The Bounce has shown that the spinner rack rather than the multiplex is still the best place to find the most dazzling ideas. 8/10

X-FORCE #5
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jorge Molina
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This is shaping up to be quite the dark little series from Mr Spurrier. After the last Fantomex spotlit instalment I wondered if we might get another chapter focussing specifically on one member of the team, and to a lesser extent we do with Marrow stepping into view, but Spurrier wraps up the grand reveals about her recent past in tune with the ongoing plot involving suped-up weapons dealer and general piece of nasty business Volga. I’m really enjoying the way that this talented writer is bringing that same sense of isolation to this X-Force book that garnered much of its attention under Remender’s Uncanny title - this feels like a black ops team running under the radar, and the problems, crises and skirmishes they are coming into contact with (particularly in this issue) evoke a sense of genuine danger. The Marrow character development is well handled, emotionally raw and adds a further layer to the already enthralling team dynamic and it becomes apparent with every step that Volga is a far greater menace than could have been imagined. The one small blip comes in the form of Psylocke’s response in the midst of the Marrow reveal, especially considering how she utilised her powers last time out, but a) heroes aren’t always going to act in the way we know they ‘should/could’, and b) I trust Spurrier enough to wait and see if that was perhaps an intentional bit of writing. 8/10

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