29 Jun 2014

Mini Reviews 29/06/2014

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.

OUTCAST #1
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Paul Azaceta & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $2.99

James R: I won't bother boring you all with the whole 'new Robert Kirkman book' thing as my colleagues did a fine job of flagging up Outcast earlier in the week. Like a lot of people, I couldn't resist it - Kirkman turning his gaze to demonic possession was just too good to ignore. After this bumper first issue that introduces us to the world of Kyle Barnes, I'm certainly ready to follow him down a very dark path. It's a brilliantly sophisticated narrative that slowly reveals Barnes' past rather than going for an 'info dump' approach. The building sense of unease and dread is accentuated by both Azactra's pencils and Brietweiser's terrifically moody colours. My only reservation about the book comes via Kirkman's introductory essay at the end which states "There is evidence that supports the possibility that demonic possession is very much real." I couldn't help but raise a rational eyebrow at that statement. Kirkman then covers himself by saying that it's a fictional story which he'll look at from all angles, but it still took an edge off a supremely confident first chapter. The last time I tried one of Kirkman's creator owned books - Thief of Thieves - I felt that it looked weak up against the crime books of Rucka and Brubaker. This time, Kirkman doesn't have such illustrious competition. Now let's see if possession can be as compelling a zombies... 8/10

Stewart R: A new Image #1. Written by the scribe of The Walking Dead. With a bumper, double-the-norm page count. For the price of $2.99. Four elements that you’d cobble together and nine times out of ten you’d find a comic worthy of the hype and the sold out first print run. And there certainly seems to be a lot of praise on the net for this horror comic, which suggests that the printers at Image will keep running into the night for the next few issues of Outcast. And with all that said I now state that I actually found this to be a reasonable start, but certainly not mind-blowing. Kirkman gives us the set up for a horror story, borrowing from the well-known bag that is The Exorcist, putting demonic possession at the dark heart of what does feel like a storyboard pitch for a television series. The way that Kirkman and Azaceta pace this, with Kyle’s past and present portrayed through overlap - the creepy former offering insight into the bedraggled and depressed existence he leads today - lends itself to the larger page count and allows Kirkman to give his protagonist a mini-arc within the debut itself as he becomes embroiled in something he was hoping to avoid and for an evident good reason. Azaceta does a fine job with pen and ink, elevating the moments of possession by showing only the smallest, subtlest visual signs that something is not as it should be and this is far cleaner work than his effort on Graveyard Of Empires. My slight sense of ambivalence comes from getting to the end of this lengthy issue and only being genuinely surprised by one plot twist. I found much of what transpires to be a little predictable and a few of the prominent characters do feel a little clich├ęd. Stubborn sister-figure? Check! Rough-around-the-edges Reverend? Check! All in all this is not a great start, but it is just solid enough for a look at #2. 6/10

Matt C: With the continuing, steamrolling success of The Walking Dead, I imagine there are some jealous types out there just waiting for the moment Robert Kirkman falls flat on his face (or maybe that’s more of a British thing, building them up and knocking them down!). Anyway, if there are such types out there, they’re going to have to wait a while longer to commence they’re gloating because Outcast is good. In fact, it’s really good. I’ve never been much of a horror geek and always felt I could scratch my demonic possession itch by rewatching The Exorcist, but even though it seems like there's only so much you can do with a priest standing over a child attempt to cast out a malevolent spirit (steady!), Outcast still managed to grip even when the unfolding events came across as awfully familiar. Why? First off, it’s the characterization. Kirkman really works at fleshing out his cast, and that slowly but surely pays dividends as the story progresses. The writer is easing us under the skin of the various individuals populating the narrative, in particular the protagonist, Kyle. It’s an obvious requirement, and getting it right is harder than it looks, but over the years Kirkman has become more adept at cutting right to the core of his characters. The other key ingredient? The art. Azaceta’s heavy, brooding linework and Breitweiser’s gloomy palette make this an absolutely beautiful book to behold. I was particularly impressed by the tiny panels Azaceta peppered throughout the issue, capturing those little moments that may normally appear imperceptible but in actuality convey so much about what’s really going on. You may not be able to flip this for Walking Dead #1 sums of money in a few years time, but right now it amply demonstrates that Kirkman has plenty more tricks up his sleeve. 8/10

SUPERMAN #32
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: John Romita Jr, Klaus Janson & Laura Martin
DC $3.99

James R: The last time I dipped my toe back into Superman was Greg Pak's run with the Man of Steel. 'Underwhelming' is the kindest thing I could say about it, and once again I was left without the Last Son of Krypton on my pull-list. I must stress that for all my current malaise towards the Big Two, I would dearly love to have a Superman, Batman and X-Men book on my monthly pull. I'm amazed that DC haven't tried to get more heavyweight creative teams on Superman before issue #32. I appreciate that Scott Snyder and Jim Lee have Superman Unchained on the go, but that was always going to be a limited series. This week's issue of Superman represents a definite turning point for me. Geoff Johns may not be the creative force he once was, but his Action Comics run was definitely one of the recent high points for Big Blue. His script here isn't particularly original (in fact, I couldn't help be reminded of Superman Unchained) but it definitely feels like Superman. We're introduced to Ulysses - a reverse Superman - sent into a parallel dimension by Earth parents who believed the planet doomed, and imbued with incredible powers. There's a lot of mileage in the literary concept of ‘the double’, and it will be interesting to see where Johns goes with it. In terms of art, Romita seems to be Marmite artist - people seem to love him or hate him - but I've always thought he has an incredibly distinct aesthetic, and these pages definitely reflect some of his better work. So, it's not an Earth-shaking relaunch, nor is it the best comic you'll read this year, but I'm delighted that I've finally got a good issue of Superman again. 8/10

X-FORCE #6
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: “Clever bugger!” Those were the words that I audibly uttered upon finishing my first read through of X-Force #6 and indeed, Mr Spurrier really does have a knack for leading the reader one way to then have them scurrying back through the pages to check just how he sold the dummy so well. Having spent the past three issues dissecting the recent character histories of the better known members of this team, Spurrier turns his focus to MeMe and in doing so shows us just how she, Cable and Hope all became victims of the events at Alexandria as Volga enacted his dastardly plan and the new, black market driven war against mutants came to be. Once all this is laid open we’re left with a handful of tantalizing questions to be addressed and also rewarded with an explosive crescendo as the tide turns once more in X-Force’s favour. Amongst the carnage, Spurrier gets to drop in the odd bit of fun (Fantomex and Doc Nemesis have an interesting interaction) and bravado as the conflict rages and the dust isn’t given much chance to settle. And then there’s the added payoff that has you taking this fine $3.99 book, closing the pages and opening the front cover once again to take your time going back through and... well, I dare not say any more, except of course, get onboard with X-Force! 8/10

TREES #2
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Howard
Image $2.99

James R: This week, I've been working on a new article about unfinished books that I hope will make a comeback, and if you're a regular comic reader, I'm sure you can guess that the name 'Warren Ellis' came up a fair bit! As I read through Trees #2, I couldn't help but think, “Man, I hope we don't have to add this to the ‘Ellis Unfinished’ list!” At the moment, Trees is shaping up to be an Ellis great. This isn't an outstanding issue, but it certainly serves to move all the narrative pieces into place, and really defines where this series is going. On one hand we have the plot concerning the Trees themselves - what are they here to do do? Coexistence? Destruction? On the other, there is how the Trees have changed the political landscape of the world. Following New York last month, we visit Greece and Somalia here and see that the Trees' arrival has caused an upheaval in terms of economy and society. It's great to see Ellis adding more ingredients to the stew that is Trees - it's slowly but surely building to something epic. My only moment of disappointment came at the books conclusion, which seemed to be more of a 'No more pages!' moment rather than a dramatic 'To Be Continued!' I remember Ellis saying that he hoped to have six issues in the can by the end of May and I really hope that is the case, as it’s shaping up to be one of the series of the year. A strong chapter, let's hope it builds to a suitably stratospheric conclusion. 7/10

Matt C: A decent follow up to an impressive opener that sees the focus reduce a little bit, meaning some of the plot threads introduced earlier are left for a later date. The bulk of the issue takes place in Norway, with the mysterious appearance of ‘black poppies’ and their possible connection to the Trees. What bugs me about this instalment is something that I’ve seen a number of times in Warren Ellis comics, and it’s looking like a trend rather than an occasional blip. The way this issue ends, it feels like it’s mid-scene, or the moment before a natural transition, rather than anything resembling a cliffhanger. In other words, it comes across as though it was designed for a longer form of delivery instead of serialized storytelling. That’s fine if you're reading the inevitable collected edition, but monthly readers might miss that visceral thrill of wanting to know what happens next as soon as possible. If you don’t design your story to be read in chunks broken up by cliffhangers, it makes it a little more difficult to want to read it in that format. Good, but with the aforementioned irritation downgrading it a little. 7/10

DEADLY CLASS #6
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

Stewart R: It’s probably fair to say that every issue of Deadly Class has been a ‘Holy shit!!!’ type affair with at least one moment of goosebump-raising or jaw-dropping surprise and tension, but this issue simply doesn’t let up for the entire page count. Marcus’ violent comedown at the hands of lethal bully Chico is a fraught affair and it only gets worse when the rest of the cast turn up and things descend into a neat character study of some of the gang’s flaws. With things already riding the high line of nervous excitement, Remender then brushes it all aside with an effective swipe and manages to proudly show us that we really, REALLY haven’t seen anything yet. As we’ve reached the end of the first story arc I find it interesting that we’ve learnt relatively little about Marcus, yet having ridden shotgun with him on his Vegas trip (in both senses of the word here) we can clearly see the subtle change in the young man since he arrived at the school for assassins. All of his mysteries remain intact and, if anything, are now even more tantalising with the blunt, blatant and brilliant introduction of a nemesis who we may not even see again for an arc or two. And on the strength of six very enjoyable issues I’ll be hoping for a lot more than just ‘an arc or two’ in Deadly Class’ future! 9/10

C.O.W.L. #2
Writer: Kyle Higgins & Alex Siegel
Art: Rod Reis
Image $3.50

Matt C: Unionized superheroes patrol the mean streets of Chicago in the early ‘60s, and while they may have gone a long way towards cleaning up city, there’s plenty of ‘dirt’ embedded in the organization behind closed doors. This is basically a tale of mid-20th century American law enforcement, with added superpowers, and anyone familiar with the genre will recognize the corruption percolating in the background as damaged men make the effort to prove they’re good guys, that they’ve got what it takes, and whether or not they’re willing to look the other way when certain things go down. This is recognizable ground being covered, but Higgins and Siegel invest heavily in building their characters, creating a believable world for them to inhabit, integrating the costumed crimefighter element seamlessly. Reis brings a brooding ambience to the whole enterprise, with some loose pencil work and a washed out colour scheme that aids the suggestion that danger lurks around every corner. A great twist on the superhero paradigm that’s delivered with real power thanks to the belief and ingenuity of the creative team. 8/10

BRASS SUN #2
Writer: Ian Edginton
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
Rebellion $3.99

Stewart R: After an accomplished and expansive start, Edginton doesn’t let up as Wren continues on her journey of discovery about the vast clockwork solar system in which she is an inhabitant, her mission to restart the Brass Sun leading her into further danger. The way in which writer and artist combine their talents here lends the whole thing a rather Hayao Miyazaki-esque feeling of scale and scope as bizarre and wonderful settings keep coming into view, the beings and contraptions residing within them all oozing distinctive character that keeps you wanting more. Edginton provides the cast with their own particular motives and agendas that propel the story onwards as altruism and selfishness clash and the plot just continues to thicken page after page as further glorious elements arrive on the scene. Culbard once again delivers a fine looking issue, keeping the action simple and then adding those extra moments of detail when it comes to his character expression work which harmonises with Edginton’s dialogue perfectly. Brass Sun once again gets a Gold Star here. 9/10

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