25 May 2014

Mini Reviews 25/05/2014

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.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: Okay, okay, first things first: once again, I have to hold up my hands and admit that I was wrong. After reviewing issue #1, I claimed that the groups put together by Captain America were an unorthodox collective, and my good friend Stewart pointed out that I had misread the book, and that it wasn't Cap that had put all the teams together - there was another clandestine force at work. Well, here I am holding up my hands and saying he was 100% correct! My apologies, dear readers - I put my error down to being either tired or hungover when I read my comics! Now that's done, on to issue #2 - and well, it's fine. It's not outstanding, it's not groundbreaking… it's just okay. Our disparate groups make further inroads into investigating the death of the Watcher, and the mysterious hooded figure who currently possesses the Watcher's eye is revealed. There wasn't anything really jaw-dropping here, it's more of what I call a 'chess' issue - the various heroes are manoeuvred into place, we're teased a little more with the mystery behind Uatu's death, and that's pretty much it. I enjoyed reading it, but 24 hours later, I had entirely forgotten what had happened, and needed to re-read the issue, and that's never a great sign for me. So, not bad, but not spectacular either. 6/10

Matt C: If nothing else, a tip of the hat needs to be given to that 'floating head' cover! 'Floating head' covers were a regular occurrence during the Bronze Age, usually accompanied by an ominous tagline (which this issue also provides) but these days they are as rare as hen's teeth. It provides a bit of a nostalgic kick even if the contents are very much in the more portentous style of modern superhero epics. It doesn't feel like the plot is being moved forward a great deal here, so while it's still diverting and reasonably entertaining, bar a few moments there's nothing especially memorable about this instalment. What does stick out, again, is some rather astonishing work from Deodato, the splash page imagery on offer being particularly effective. Functional and entertaining, but I'd expect things to kick into a higher gear next issue. 7/10

Stewart R: Yup, there was enough quality and intrigue to be found within the opening chapter of Aaron’s Summer Marvel event book to have me onboard and so I’ve reached the end of the second issue to find myself interested, but perhaps a little underwhelmed. There’s plenty of hopping around from location to location to another dimension as Cap’s Avengers take point in trying to trace down Uatu’s killer with the unconventional breadcrumb trail of suddenly sentient Mindless Ones providing the brunt of the tension and action, whilst the other secret teams of heroic investigators follow their own trails. Aaron does a reasonable job of keeping the story on its mysterious rails, bringing in new or at least relatively unknown antagonists to prevent this from resembling previous events and conflicts, but that’s at the cost of speed with us now a quarter of the way through this series with nothing but questions laid out before us and no actual motive to be seen as yet and the overall ‘threat’ - if there even is one - still unknown and unfelt. My guess is that #3 will see all of the thrills, spills and meaningful initial reveals coming into play but if I’m proved wrong on that note I do fear that this could lumber along, rather than glide, as perhaps a murder-mystery should, and raise the question as to whether the scope and scale of this may have been pitched slightly too wide and aggressively in order to ‘fit’ the wider Marvel universe in which it’s taking place. 6/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

James R: After giving Hickman a bit of a pasting for his pedestrian issue of New Avengers last week, I have to doff my cap to him once more, as this issue of East Of West is - once again - phenomenally good. After bringing the various power players of his alternate Earth together last time, we now get their (literally) explosive meeting. As with Matt Kindt's most recent issue of Mind MGMT, the main body of the comic takes place over a very short period of time, but Hickman and Dragotta pack enough stress, drama and intrigue for five whole issues. One thing I love about this book is it's distinct lack of orthodoxy - after 12 issues, it's wonderful that the motivations of many of the main players remain obscure, their end games absolutely mysterious, and that makes it a compelling read. Hickman continues to impress with Manhattan Projects at Image too, but it's East Of West that seems to be the best vehicle for his grand narratives and grand ambition. A fine comic, and one that deserves to be on the pull-list of all sophisticated comics fans. 8/10

Stewart R: Wowsers. Now this is how you turn a focused, one note issue into one heck of a powerhouse read. Hickman brings the politics of his and Dragotta’s world to the table and assembles the wide power cast of this vision of America to discuss the whirring machinations of death that are seeding themselves throughout the land. There’s a brilliant, dripping tension to every conversation and action here as we’re aware of several of the motivating factors behind each barbed comment or accusation from some of those in attendance, with the technology embracing members of The Nation the wild card in play having only been dramatically introduced at the summit of the last issue. I loved seeing the push and pull of all of the parties with Xiaolian’s bold, direct call for war deflected and misdirected by the likes of Chamberlain, Bel and the seeming logic of the Nation representatives, who all pursue their own agendas. In a very ‘talky’ chapter such as this you’d think that the artist would have it easy, but Dragotta arguably delivers one of his strongest efforts to date, shifting the tone of the meeting in tandem with Hickman’s dialogue, dropping sly looks, clenched jaws and eye-wide accusations with aplomb and gay abandon. A triumph of dramatic comic book writing. 9/10

MPH #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Duncan Fegredo & Peter Doherty
Image $2.99

Matt C: For a comic about drug-induced superspeed this introductory issue does take an awful lot of time to produce any kind of momentum. The opening four pages make a solid impact but what follows is rather generic low-level crime and punishment, not especially enlivened by the introduction of the superpowers element. Fegredo does a fine job but it's only the intriguing cliffhanger, which refers back to the events at the beginning of the issue, that makes a good case for coming back for a second round. Considering his recent form, this is not one of Millar's better efforts. 6/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: After last month's frankly creepy offering, Scott Snyder and co. return with a far more orthodox issue this week, with Pearl facing off against a most unwelcome houseguest in the shape of the devil-infected May, whilst Skinner Sweet makes a predictable return, but with a tale full of foreboding for both himself and Pearl. As with Original Sin this week, I felt this was a 'chess' issue - but whereas Original Sin was pretty forgettable, American Vampire's ace in the hole is the remarkable art of Rafael Albuquerque and the colours of Dave McCaig - their work gives the whole book a unique, dark and ominous feel that is on one hand enticing, yet nightmarish on the other. I've said before that Snyder seems to do his best work with the equally brilliant Sean Murphy, but it's clear that in this book Rafael Albuquerque infuses Snyder's script with a dark power that's striking and unique. A fine issue, and for me Second Cycle is proving to be vastly superior to the first. 7/10

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

Matt C: Rather than following on from the explosive events of the previous issue, Fialkov makes the decision to focus on two of his other central characters and the continued fallout from the discoveries of the opening chapter. He takes an impressively adult approach to the way the revelations are cutting a path of destruction through previously strong relationships, and when (most of) the characters all find themselves in the same space again, and are confronted by further revelations, it leads to another of those cliffhangers that this series does so well. Infurnari captures plenty of emotion in his panels, and also manages to convey a sense of inevitability to the proceedings, which may or may not be something I projecting onto his art due to my knowledge of the plot, but I like to think he weaves some sort of magic into the eyes of the characters, which is a pretty enviable trick to pull off. Fast becoming one of the best books on the stands. 8/10

Writer: André Sirangelo
Art: Gabriel Iumazark
Archaia $3.99

Stewart R: What an interesting start this is. Sirangelo drops us a glimpse of what we can assume will be the final act from the opening page and setting out the strange, mysterious mood that sweeps throughout this comic book from cover to cover. A struggling magician and illusionist, Ivan is the central protagonist and we learn about his temperament as he encounters several obstacles and problems as he tries to make ends meet and push forward in his career, all while the legend of 1930s illusionist, Blackhall The Incredible, appears to be having murderous implications in the modern setting, potentially putting the lives of two urban explorers in danger as they make discoveries underneath San Francisco. There’s plenty of jumping around throughout this opening chapter, yet it thankfully doesn’t manage to shake off the concentration and prove bewildering at all. The dark manga-influenced visuals of Iumazark’s hand, also reminding me of Riley Rossmo’s work in a loose way with super-elongated angles, helps to sell this as an intriguing thriller. The added bonus cryptography clues in the ‘Backbone’ section and in the inside front cover add an extra level of detail which sets this out as a debut worth your attention. 8/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Marco Checchetto & Andres Mossa
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: And this was a title I was getting ready to drop! Spencer takes all of the writing credit this month for what turns out to be the best issue of the series so far. It focuses primarily on Hyperion, a character who's often felt a little peripheral since his introduction, and in doing so gives us a more solid insight into what's going on in his head, and whether he feels he can get past what he considers to be his ultimate failure. It's effective and enlightening, building on what we've seen not only in this series but Avengers and New Avengers too. Checchetto does a sterling job of capturing the current Avengers visual 'style' and while this issue may be a blip, it's quite conceivable that Spencer, now purely in control of the narrative, may be able to shape the series into one that can go to toe to toe with Hickman's two Avengers books. 8/10

Writer: W. Haden Blackman
Art: Michael Del Mundo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Following up an impressive opening with an assured second issue is really important in the competitive market that All-New Marvel NOW! is proving to be as it seems there’s no shortage of new #1s to tempt that money from your pocket. Blackman and particularly Del Mundo really did wow with their opening gambit and I’m very happy to declare that this follow up is nearly as good. Blackman gives us more of the strange power-absorption antagonist to kick things off and that provides Del Mundo the chance to shine once more with his eye-catching paints and brain tickling palates of orange and blue. Even come the end of this chapter we still don’t know what this mysterious character has for a name and that’s just one element that helps to drive this title ever onwards. Just as important is the unfolding story of Elektra’s hunt for Cape Crow and the twist that this journey takes here is the deadly assassin is confronted with the slim possibility of her quarry trying to make a move for redemption. The action, when it crops up, is blistering and beautifully depicted by Del Mundo, whose star can only rise higher and higher from here with a title that he's shining so damn brightly on right now. 9/10

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