15 Jun 2014

Mini Reviews 15/06/2014

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.

NEW AVENGERS #19
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Valerio Schiti & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: Last month, I took Hickman to task for an issue that was all padding - having set up a pan-dimensional clash with the JLA analogue, The Great Society (and after having the team checked by Marvel's legal mandarins, no doubt!), the previous chapter of New Avengers was a flat read for me. Once again, it's nice to be proved wrong as Hickman returns with an issue that is much more like it - we don't get the clash per se but the face-off between the two teams is delicious. The main reason why I love Hickman is that he embraces the big philosophical questions and makes them the central focus of his books. With New Avengers, the conundrum has been 'How can we justify our survival at the expense of billions?' On one hand, there is the detached utilitarian view that says there are no ethical considerations, there is just the imperative for life to continue, whilst on the other there is the 'Heroic' imperative that has always driven these characters in the past: “We can always save the day!” I'm loving watching the Illuminati struggle with this dilemma, and I just hope that Hickman has an equally brilliant conclusion in mind for this ‘Incursion’ epic. 8/10

Matt C: This title and Avengers have begun overlapping to such a degree that they're practically inseparable now. I guess that’s been the case since they both began, but there were more distinct plotlines that each book focused on in their early days. Obviously this would have been Hickman’s plan all along as he always plays the long game – and it’s become more apparent with the recently announced ‘Time Run’s Out’ story arc – but while there are a few continuity headscratchers between the two, it’s generally a good thing to see such cohesion. This issue is basically Avengers versus the JLA (or at least, a very close approximation), and whoever wins gets to save their Earth while the other alternate Earth perishes. There’s a bit of clunkiness at the start, and artist Schiti employs surprised looks a little too often, but as it reaches a crescendo it’s thoroughly gripping. You could ask where this will leave some of these characters from a moral standpoint once Hickman wraps up his tenure, but that's a questions for another time. For now, the writer has whipped the Avengers franchise into the most compelling position it’s been in for years. 8/10

WILDFIRE #1
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Linda Sejic
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: Genetically engineered food isn’t the most obviously arresting topic for a comic book series, so kudos to Hawkins for giving it his best shot. It’s not entirely successful though. It’s smartly put together – the research is self-evident, as it always is with Hawkins’ work – but it’s overly talky, with exposition edging out the drama for the most part. Sejic’s art is fine but she’s not given much opportunity to do anything outside talking heads at this stage. It’s a fairly dense read and there’s much to admire about the intelligence on display, but unlike, say, Hawkins’ Think Tank or Aphrodite IX, no one character springs out as someone the reader can latch onto, which makes it a bit too impersonal for my tastes. An intriguing concept, but Wildfire is a comic that may struggle to find an audience. 6/10

SHE-HULK #5
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Ron Wimberly & Rico Renzi
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I think Charles Soule has found the perfect formula for delivering the most tension-filled comic book story involving a Hulk; you can’t easily put your protagonist in peril so focus on their ability to be a superhero and the trials and dangers that their friends and associates may be put through as part of that. This mystery case that has surfaced in front of Jen involving a whole manner of B and C-list heroes and villains is a real attention grabber and by splitting the focus three ways here, Soule really does push things on, getting those nerves a-buzzing and even gets chance to add some commentary about the differing perspectives of the good and the bad guys. The way that he involves the Shocker and turns a simple conversation into something rounded, meaningful and insightful is truly impressive and is one of those glorious moments when the Marvel Universe feels as rich as it has the potential to be. The events taking place around and with Angie and Patsy also highlight how quickly the extended cast have become a very important element of this book and the reader’s concern for their wellbeing ensures that the next chapter is a guaranteed ‘must have’. I’ll even add that whilst Ron Wimberly’s linework made me grimace initially, his style - reminiscent of Aeon Flux creator, Peter Chung - grew on me quickly and if he becomes a regular alternate to Palido that might be no bad thing. 9/10

STARLIGHT #4
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Goran Parlov & Ive Svorcina
Image $2.99

Matt C: To add to this largely heartfelt Buck Rogers/John Carter/Flash Gordon hybrid we now get a healthy dollop of Star Wars introduced, and perhaps even a hint of Batman. Although it’s dealing with numerous familiar sci-fi staples, there’s an infectious freshness to Starlight, a sense that even though this ground has been covered before, there’s still plenty of uncharted territory to be explored. Parlov helps ground the fantastical with emotion, without ever forgetting the story’s pulpy origins, while Svorcina keeps things bright and futuristic without resorting to a blinding, dayglow palette. A genuine treat from Millarworld. 8/10

James R: Another confident - and highly enjoyable - issue of Starlight this month. During our last clandestine meeting, the consensus from my comrades in the PCG was that this was a definite win from Millar and Parlov, even for those of us who are more reticent to praise Mark Millar (and given his recent political posturing, it seems he's inching toward his almost-namesake Frank Miller's ‘Insanity Corner’!) This issue moves the plot on nicely, with McQueen being broken out of imprisonment by the leader of the resistance, Tilda Starr. McQueen learns that the resistance may be larger than he thought, thus setting things up nicely for a huge climatic battle between himself and Kingfisher. I'm still expecting a huge twist here - I have the sneaking feeling that the malevolent Kingfisher may be from somewhere not so alien - but the main thing to note is that this book is just a blast to read. The creative team have really embraced the ethos of pulp and serial SF, and it's great to see Parlov having fun shoehorning some Easter eggs into the background - lookout for Futurama's Bender and Battlestar Galactica's Vipers in the pages of this issue. Irresistible fun and a great read. 8/10

AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #5
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Kev Walker, Jason Gorder & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This title got a positive review from me last month and by the shiny televisual face of Armin Zola, this month’s effort deserves more of the same! Hopeless has established perfect, plausible reason for these youngsters to be where they are, in the midst of an army of supervillains and a tantalizing offer from Baron Zemo on the table, and now he goes about looking at this proposition from the protagonists’ viewpoint. I particularly enjoyed how he divided the group up by their respective character traits, putting those with leadership qualities together with Madame Masque for example, whilst those with more carefree attitudes are put with Constrictor. This addresses the greater plot while also allowing the more intricate character threads to develop in a natural way. The twist involving Nico may mean more to Runaways fans but it was still a departure from where I thought her story was headed with Daimon, proving that things are never quite as they seem with Hopeless’ writing. To that end I also have had the sneakiest feeling that the climax here may also prove to be something of a red herring and it’s going to be great fun finding out if my hunch is right or not. It may say 'Undercover' in the title, but it stands prominent and in plain sight on my pull-list. 8/10

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