8 Jun 2014

Mini Reviews 08/06/2014

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.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA #1
Writers: John Carpenter & Eric Powell
Art: Brian Churilla & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Picking up where a cult 1980s fantasy/martial arts movie left off - in comic book form no less - is never likely to be an easy feat. Rather strangely - and happily, I will add - Eric Powell manages to quite perfectly slide us back into the exploits of Jack Burton, Wang, Egg Shen and company as if there’d never been any end credits as the cocky hero drove off into the rain-soaked night some 28 years ago. Powell and Carpenter provide a simple and effective reason for Jack’s swift U-turn back to Chinatown which follows perfect reasoning (for such a bizarre fantasy world) and brings a proper sense of continuity to this as an actual sequel to the fall of Lo Pan. Churilla has a style that vaguely nods at caricature, but thankfully conveys a comic book version of Jack Burton to prevent you assessing every panel to check his depiction of Kurt Russell is anything other than ‘spot on’. His visual storytelling shows a knack for that comedy tinge woven through Carpenter’s film and it’s a good fit. The true success of this opening chapter though is Powell’s script. At every turn there’s a line of dialogue that you can read and actually hear the characters from the film saying those words in your head. I was truly impressed with just how well this writer has managed to nail that Big Trouble In Little China ‘feel’ in just a few pages. There’s certainly scope in the challenge that lies ahead for Jack Burton and the quality in writing and art here suggests that come the end of this series we’ll be wishing this had actually been a live-action sequel. 9/10

ORIGINAL SIN #3
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: Whoa. After a patchy opening (first issue great, second issue less so) Jason Aaron puts all his cards on the table with a reveal as to the villain of the piece, and an A-list character death for good measure. I read this issue of Original Sin with mixed emotions - as I've said all year, I feel my time reading books from the Big Two is probably drawing to a close, and as I leafed through the pages, part of me did think 'This is just utter hokum!'. Simultaneously, I'm aware of just how good Jason Aaron is as a writer (and if you're not picking up Southern Bastards, I implore you to do it!) and his skill here is to drag me along for the ride regardless of my cynicism. There are a few stand-out moments, which I'll avoid spoiling, and some razor-sharp dialogue: when being questioned by Wolverine and Hulk, The Orb adroitly notes "A tortured schoolteacher and a deranged physicist. Is this some sort of bizarre variation on the good cop, bad cop routine?" So all told it's crazy, but yet it's a very compelling crazy. Once again, I've been reading comics long enough to know that a number of the reveals here might just be fake-outs, but it's nice to say the part of me that's still a naive reader had a blast with Original Sin. 8/10

Matt C: I’m finding it difficult to get a proper handle on this series. There are a lot of parts I really like, but when put together as a whole they don’t all seem to slot together nicely. Bringing in Z-list villains like The Orb and Dr. Midas is a pretty nifty device for spicing things up a bit, avoiding rote predictability, but their motivations are still foggy, even if Aaron provides them with a good helping of chewy dialogue to ensure they remain engaging. The disparate ‘teams’ out investigating The Watcher’s demise seem highly unlikely partnerships, and again it’s not being made particularly clear what they’re instructions were, and what compelling reasons were offered for putting them together. A murder mystery is all well and good but you need to give the reader something to latch onto, even if it turns out to be a red herring. That final page is certainly a shocker but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from the way the narrative has structured to this point; no justifiable reason for a lot of what occurs has been bedded into the plot, three issues in. Deadato continues to pull out all the stops though, his illustrations (along with Martin’s colours) bringing a cohesiveness that is often lacking in the script. I’ll stick with it because there’s just about enough going on to hold my interest – and I find it hard to resist these things, even when they wind me up – but currently Original Sin is a long way off from living up to its potential. 6/10

THE WAKE #9
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
DC/Vertigo Comics $2.99

James R: ...And the surprises just keep coming! With this penultimate issue, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy produce a magnificent issue that aptly demonstrates the myriad strengths of this book, whilst still delivering some jaw-dropping plot turns. Snyder cuts straight to the chase, with Leeward now firmly established as first mate of the Argo 3, and in a sequence that works beautifully as a comic, we're brought up to speed with Leeward's epic journey. From there, we're taken to the source of the elusive signal that Leeward has been persuing since the book's narrative leapt into the future. There's a very real sense of Snyder and Murphy having fun here - in the space of a few pages, they burn through some great SF ideas that would be worthy of chapters or books in their own right. In The Wake though, it's just further ingredients for a heady read. Sean Murphy's art is once again simply brilliant, from the small touches (the Governess drinking from a 'It's Better In The Bahamas' mug) to the epic (the attack on the Argo) he never drops the ball. Snyder and Murphy are a blockbuster team in every sense of the word, and I cannot wait to see how this epic wraps up. 9/10

MAGNETO #5
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: So I’m now caught up on this series, and if you’d heard elsewhere that it was unexpectedly good, I can confirm to you now that’s absolutely the case. Unexpected not because of the creative team but because, traditionally, an X-Men spin-off title that isn’t Wolverine generally has a limited shelf life... and that’s just the heroes. Villains? Forget about it! Magneto's a different kettle of fish though as he’s not strictly evil (even if he’s methods sometimes belie that fact); he’s someone who implicitly believes the path he’s chosen is the right and just one. Complex, conflicted, contradictory – our TV screens have been lit up in the last decade by characters who are far away from what can be defined as ‘good’, so why can’t mainstream superhero comics get in on the act? Admittedly this isn’t the most striking instalment of the series so far as it’s really more concerned with setting the wheels in motion for a new arc, but Bunn continues to channel Magneto’s angry, damaged philosophies through his story and Walta’s sturdy art has some of the flavour of early Romita Jr, which is most welcome, especially when enlivened by Jordie Bellaire’s colours (who must be the hardest working colourist in the biz now, surely?). Cliché time: leave your preconceptions at the door and believe the hype. 8/10

HINTERKIND #8
Writer: Ian Edginton
Art: Francesco Trifogli & Chris Peter
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: So rich and so damn deep. Hinterkind is quite honestly one series you really should be reading. This chapter shows the entire main cast adrift on their own separate paths with a multitude of different motivations at work, yet it never feels cluttered or too busy. The Doc’s developing relationship with his fairy and troll captors reaches an exciting point of understanding as they face a dangerous situation together and Edginton takes the opportunity to flesh out the characters differently, some through polished and compelling expositional dialogue, others through simple action. When we’re whisked off to see what trouble Prosper and John have found themselves in, Edginton then flips the tables on our assumptions once more, expanding the borders of this bizarre world and by proxy introduces us to yet another mysterious and organised threat. Add to this the further plotting of a royal daughter against her benevolent mother and the promise of dark times to come and you really do have one heck of a $2.99 read. That’s before you even get to Trifogli and Peter’s combined artwork which just goes from strength to strength as the months go on and they have to be applauded for making this one of the most consistent visual experiences of the shelves. Pick up the first trade people, I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 9/10

CALIBAN #3
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Facundo Percio, Sabastian Cabrol & Hernan Cabrera
Avatar $3.99

James R: Or: the collected edition/single issues dilemma. I have a sneaking suspicion Garth Ennis has got something up his sleeve here. After the strength of the first issue, I can't believe that he's just sticking with the 'psychopath on a spaceship' plot (the one which, yep, we've seen in Event Horizon and Sunshine) and I think that there could be something else coming… but what if there’s not? With issue #3, Ennis just riffs on the plot of issue #2; a little more character development, but we're still just reading the crew getting picked off by an 'infected' amongst their number… and it's really uninteresting. Not horrific, just thuddingly dull. I'd normally drop the book at this point, but if Ennis pulls something extraordinary out of the hat, I'll feel like a right plum! It's at times like this I see the benefit of waiting for a book to finish it's run and get it as a collected tome - it's anathema to me as an old-school comic fan, but after spending over seven pounds (or twelve dollars) on what's quickly turning into a predictable and well-worn tale, I can see the appeal of trade-waiting. 4/10

PUNISHER #6
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Not only has Edmondson managed to get me reading a Punisher book off of the quality he’s shown with other titles, but he’s also managed to convince me that for once there are more interesting angles to a character who, for quite a long time, seemed to be nothing more than an unswerving blunt instrument, a force of nature. This issue really shows that man behind the skull chestplate motif; a man with a mission, but with doubts as to whether he can fully accomplish it in a world with men and women who can fly, punch holes in concrete and shoot bolts of electricity from their fingertips. Edmondson could have just stuck to that single premise of the Punisher being out of his depth in a super-powered world, but thanks to his inclusion of the pursuing Howling Commando unit he even has Frank considering whether he’s becoming obsolete in a new world of soldiers and politicians which no longer relate to his initial war against crime. As everything (literally) blows up in his face we get to see just how isolated and reliant on his own skills this man is and it really does make for some gripping reading. Gerads storyboarding and panel work gives this an important filmic touch which adds a sense of realistic danger and tension to a book that has a master of electricity emblazoned on the front cover. The All-New Marvel NOW! wagon rolls ever onwards and Punisher is one of those titles at the head of the charge! 8/10

NAILBITER #2
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson & Adam Guzowski
Image $2.99

Matt C: An excellent second issue proves that not only was the debut instalment no fluke but that Williamson and Henderson (also behind digi-series Masks & Mobsters) make a pretty fearsome collaborative partnership. Much like TV’s Hannibal, it’s the strength of characterization and not a reliance on shocks that makes Nailbiter stand out. There are shocks to be found of course, but they have much more impact because of the developing relationships we as readers have with the various fictional individuals that form the focus of the narrative. Henderson and Guzowski bathe everything in a creepy slickness and take an almost matter-of-fact to approach to the more horrific images (and there’s a really effective POV sequence too). Another Image title, Bedlam, recently tried to get inside the head of the serial killer but its rather pretentious approach became a bit of a turn off. The black humour and damaged cast indicate Nailbiter is set to be a far more successful enterprise. 8/10

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