1 Jun 2014

Mini Reviews 01/06/2014

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.

BRASS SUN #1
Writer: Ian Edginton
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
Rebellion $3.99

Stewart R: What really shines in this opener is how Edginton avoids exposition or diving into the ‘science’ behind how this universe works, instead electing to lead with the politics and religion that pervade the lands which exist within this clockwork solar system. There’s as much reflection of organised religions legacy of dealing with ‘heresy’ through a thousand years of human history as there is modern governments strengthening their positions of power through situations they know to be growing worse, and both writer and artist do a fine job of selling a truly desperate time through succinct and enthralling storytelling. Threaded through the dark woven politics is the bright string, that ‘human element’ of young Wren’s first steps on a journey to possibly prevent a frozen end to billions of lives. Edginton I feel has chosen wisely in keeping her introduction trailing slightly in importance behind the weight of the set-up here, potentially allowing her character development to come to the fore through further issues. Culbard’s art is clean, simple and elegant, and he provides great personality in his expression work and a sense of believability in his landscape creation that distinctly and quite rightly avoids this from falling into ‘steampunk’ territory. Edginton is already producing sterling fantasy on Hinterkind and he could well be repeating that feat with Brass Sun. 8/10

James R: Well, some weeks are thin, and some weeks are Biblically fat! The last week of May has definitely provided us with the latter of the two, with some extraordinary comics. To be fair, I could have picked virtually anything off my pull-list for book of the week, but Brass Sun gets the nod for a few very good reasons. Firstly, it's great to see Blighty's own, beloved 2000 AD bring out such a high-quality book, and going toe-to-toe with the American market. We all know that 2000 AD is the place where so many of the industry's great talents have cut their teeth for the last thirty years, but Brass Sun demonstrates that it's still a wonderful laboratory for some great comics ideas. The plot centres on a universe which seems to work on the principles of an Orrery - a clockwork mechanism which plots the movement of planets around a sun. This is an extraordinary concept in and of itself, but Edginton's script builds a remarkable world on top of this, one where heretics who question the clockwork movements of the planets are sentenced to death. It's beautifully realised by Culbard, and comes across as a book bursting with ideas and promise. My only hope is that Edgington continues this great start (I remember being wowed by the idea of his War Of The Worlds sequel Scarlet Traces but then disappointed at how short it was) but for now, I'm happy that 2000 AD are continuing to thrive, and that our tiny isle continues to make such great comics. 9/10

C.O.W.L. #1
Writer: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel
Art: Rod Reis
Image $3.50

Matt C: A pleasant surprise as I didn’t really know what to expect from this debut. I’m quite partial to superheroes in a period setting and C.O.W.L. approaches things from a rather unusual angle, setting up the titular Chicago Organized Workers League as a legitimate organization that operates in the Windy City, tackling the problem of superpowered criminals. There are hints of the Minutemen here, but this isn’t strictly a superhero team, instead it’s broken down into various divisions (Tactical, Investigations, Patrol), each tasked with their own objectives, and this issue gives decent first glimpse at what all that involves. Reis’ art is occasionally reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz, but there’s nothing overly expressionistic to cause any visual confusion and the characters are easily discernible. The suggestion for the ongoing plotline is that C.O.W.L. may be redundant as an operational entity (once they’ve cleaned up the streets, what then?) which is certainly an interesting place to begin, but whatever route writers Higgins and Siegel take from here, on the basis of this opening chapter I’m definitely keen to follow them. 8/10

TREES #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Howard
Image $2.99

James R: Uncle Warren is back! After stepping away from monthly comics for a while, Trees represents the return of one of the true comics greats. Ellis may predominantly work in comics, but he's part of a rich vein of great British SF writers. Trees showcases just how good he is, establishing a world and concept in just twenty pages. Huge, monolithic 'Trees' have arrived on Earth, and have caused a huge upheaval for humanity - society has been changed (and threatened) by the mysterious and huge life forms, but as of yet, they remain inscrutable. Reading this, I was stuck by Ellis' verisimilitude - it's hard to imagine what a world-changing event would be like, but Ellis' portrayal of humanity having to adapt and survive in the shadow of the Trees was remarkable. If I do have one criticism, it's that the story was too short; at twenty pages, I felt it was just hitting stride before being curtailed. The book looks handsome too - Jason Howard's art was reminiscent of the work of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and that's certainly no bad thing. A terrific first chapter all told, and it's great to have Ellis back playing to his strengths. All hail Doctor Whisky! 8/10

Matt C: It really is a case of watching a master of the craft at work again. Huge, cylindrical alien objects have planted themselves across the planet, now colloquially known as ‘Trees’, and have proceeded to remain mostly dormant for a decade. We’re dropped into this not-too-distant future (where drones are commonplace) and are introduced to a set of characters in different parts of the globe, each approaching the unnatural additions to the landscape in their own ways. It’s mostly set-up, and we don’t get much insight beyond the basics, but again, Ellis knows how to pace these things and Howard’s art looks like it’ll well equipped to handle the action and the emotion. Fingers crossed Ellis sees this one through to the end. 8/10

DEAD BODY ROAD #6
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Matteo Scalera & Moreno Dinisio
Image/Skybound $2.99

Stewart R: And so we reach the explosive conclusion of Justin Jordan’s revenge tale and while there is certainly explosion and a definite conclusion I’m left with that feeling that this is a satisfactory ending to an exhilarating journey. Perhaps there was an inevitability to that, with Jordan and Scalera building up such a frenetic pace with their prolonged chase and gunplay over two issues that slamming the brakes on for a grand finale could shake a few pieces of quality loose. There are a couple of cracks to be sure - Scalera has one character display bemusing agility and dexterity between two panels that really does beggar belief, while I’ve come away from the series convinced by Gage’s need for revenge, yet feeling that there might have been just the slightest need to delve into his character a touch deeper for this to carry a little more emotional heft. That said, Jordan’s message about revenge and the cost involved is well delivered, the action twists and turns have been engrossing and Scalera has, overall, provided a visually engaging and energy-filled thrill ride which has confirmed his standing as one of the best illustrators currently in the game. 7/10

UNCANNY AVENGERS #20
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuna
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: What at first appeared to be an uncomfortable melding of two franchises has since gone on to become a worthy successor to Uncanny X-Force with Remender taking the ideas he played with during his acclaimed run on that series and expanding on them to produce his most epic superhero opus yet. The book’s central conceit – the two parts having the capacity to make a greater whole – was something that the writer appeared to have pushed to one side at one point, but now it’s clear that it has been the integral theme, and that a lack of unity has led only to catastrophe. Acuna has amply shown himself to be the perfect artistic fit for Remender’s dark, ambitious superhero melodrama and in twenty issues the writer has turned a title that seemed initially to have sprung into existence from the most cynical of motivations into one of Marvel’s most essential and audacious books. 8/10

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #2
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Jason Latour
Image Comics $3.50

James R: Man alive, I'm really starting to love this book! After a very confident first issue, Southern Bastards continues in a rich vein of form as we're properly introduced the villain of the piece, Coach Boss. Apart from being a wonderfully moody book, with Earl Tubb feeling the shadow of his father over him, having to fulfil the role of a harbinger of justice against a malevolent force, meaning it all reads like an ancient fable relocated to the Deep South. Once again, Aaron excels at the details - he fills this book with great incidentals that makes the reader feel as if we can taste the Bayou and the heavy airway south of the Mason-Dixon line. A special mention to Jason Latour's colours in this issue - the deep red that permeates the book from the cover, through the shirts of the Rebels, and then in the storm-wracked sky gives the book a terrific aesthetic. Strong from the first page to the last, and very quickly establishing itself in my top five monthly comics - a definite touchdown for Messrs Aaron and Latour! 8/10

DEADLY CLASS #5
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

Matt C: Holy shit! Deadly Class reaches an unquestionable apex (or a high, if you will) with a hellish, hallucinatory trip (in more than one sense, natch) through Las Vegas, one where everything that can go wrong, does. Even though his mind is drug-addled to the point where fantasy and reality become indistinguishable (possibly for the reader too), Marcus still struggles with adolescent feelings of loneliness, alienation and confusion, feelings that are easily relatable and, if we’re being honest, not just relegated to the teenage years. For a series that’s ostensibly about a school of assassins, we’ve actually spent very little time there, which is a positive thing as it frees Remender up to explore the notion of teenage rebellion from an entirely different perspective and also allows him to keep us on our toes, as we never know where he’s going to take the story next. Craig does some rather exquisite visual things to relay an acid trip gone wrong but doesn’t go overboard with it, and neither does Loughridge, who avoids full-on psychedelia for palettes that reflect the (heightened) moods Marcus experiences. Gloriously chaotic and delivered with supreme confidence, in a year full of great issues this may just be Remender’s best yet. 10/10

Stewart R: "What happens in Vegas..." When that saying pops into your head whilst reading a Rick Remender comic the chances are the following line should deviate from convention and read "...will likely be an acid-tripped, bat-shit crazy affair!" Marcus is still deep within his acid-fuelled haze and Remender and Craig elect to focus on the effects to Marcus’ perception as the murderous motives for the road trip come to fruition and this troubled young man rides the wave of chaos, getting bumped, punched and lined up in the sights as he goes. Craig really must be complimented for the way that he manages to depict the rollercoaster that is Marcus’ ‘coming up’ through his drug-induced rush, the rampant flicking through TV channels, the slackjawed staring to accompany Remender’s purposefully rambled dialogue and then the elongation of limbs and twisting of time through panel use as our protagonist attempts to run away from lethal danger. Its riveting stuff indeed and the snapping back and forth between vague hallucination and sober realisation really keeps the reader on their toes throughout. The climax here is a brutal and well played as Craig pulls the camera back in an oft used televisual trick and really has you wondering just what could happen next. Which I am wondering. Right now. So, I’m definitely in for next month’s Deadly Class! 8/10

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