6 Jul 2014

Mini Reviews 06/07/2014

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. 

ROCKET RACCOON #1
Writer: Skottie Young
Art: Skottie Young & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Some people are going to go a bundle on this; it’s infectious, zany energy is likely to have a pretty broad appeal, especially when the titular character is on the verge of going stellar. Me? Well, Young’s artwork is undeniably full of wildly imaginative, excitable brilliance, but I found his take on Rocket to be a bit too ‘generic oddball outsider’, and the jokes never really passed the level of mildly amusing. I’m not entirely sure this kind of approach has any longevity either as Rocket is portrayed as someone who most definitely needs someone else to bounce off of, and whether Groot can really serve that purpose over time remains to be seen. But, saying all that, all the signs are suggesting this will be a massive hit, so I’m likely to be proven wrong on all counts. 6/10

Stewart R: Having been a bit of a fan of the character ever since, like Matt C, I discovered his bizarre science fiction antics in the back of the Transformers UK comic in the 1980s, I have to admit that it was Abnett and Lanning’s rich, yet subtle characterization of the strange talking mammalian weaponsmith that elevated my enjoyment to another level. It’s therefore a bit of a shame to see the recent shift towards a more roguish, comedy mercenary version of Rocket Raccoon (thank you Bendis and the Marvel movie engine) which actually has me cringing and tending to shy away from the character. To his credit Skottie Young tries to make this a playful starting point with Rocket being framed in mysterious fashion and a chase from the law allowing this writer/artist’s terrific flair for depicting emotion in animal characters to shine through along with his unique brand of illustrated action.  The problem for me with Rocket Raccoon #1 is that it doesn’t quite seem to know where to pitch itself. Young’s linework and Beaulieu’s colours seem to play to a younger audience, with the cartoon-like visuals screaming fun, but then some of the subject matter - there’s a lot of focus towards Rocket’s amorous intentions and posturing with the ladies - and dialogue (carefully edited and censored where required) suggests this is pitched at a teen level and higher. It really is a mixed bag, entertaining in parts, a touch clich├ęd in others and as such it seems that there’ll certainly be one less person from the masses picking up #2 as I call it quits here. 5/10

LAZARUS #9
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image $2.99

James R: Once again, it's another comics masterclass from Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. It's fair to say that I've loved this series from the off - a dystopian tale fused with political intrigue, it's yet to have a flat issue in terms of plot and characters. This issue sees a number of threads tying together magnificently; we finally see the Lift process of the Carlyle family (where the 'Waste' proletariat vie to become Serfs to the Carlyle clan) and it's also the fruition of the Free's attempt to detonate a bomb amidst the testing. Rucka's script balances the elements beautifully, and Lark's art is perfectly tailored to illustrate a world that's equal parts desperation and privilege. I know that ultimately, an opinion on any comic, film or book comes down to how much it satisfies your own personal preferences, and I have to say that Lazarus simply ticks a lot of my boxes. With the next arc teased on the inner back cover looking to expand the world of Lazarus still further, it's safe to say this title is toe-to-toe with Mind MGMT as my favourite ongoing series for 2014. 9/10

IRON FIST: THE LIVING WEAPON #4
Writer: Kaare Kyle Andrews
Art: Kaare Kyle Andrews
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: After three issues it was becoming apparent that perhaps we needed a bit of expansion into Danny Rand’s relationship with journalist Brenda, who seemed to be dropped straight into the deadly and confusing action along with the readership as soon as this series started. Andrews picks this as the moment to show us a little more about her, following last issue’s big reveal about the forces who have decimated K’un Lun and left Iron Fist’s adopted family in literal pieces, and I really did appreciate how this talented scribe gives us some extra insight simply by turning the clock back a handful of hours from where #1 kicked off. He gives us a much needed view of Danny’s mindset and the knowing feeling that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the plucky young Brenda. Scattered amongst the dialogue are continuous nods to suffering, pain, loss, family and the Rand legacy, melding together to show us the thin membrane Danny constantly walks upon with rage and insanity bubbling beneath it. By the time we’re drawn back to the present, Andrews delivers further body blows and confusion to our incredibly troubled hero and Iron Fist: The Living Weapon is proving to be one of those series I pick up to see just how deep and dark it can darn well get. 8/10

SHELTERED #10
Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Johnnie Christmas & Shari Chankhamma
Image $2.99

Matt C: It was bittersweet news to hear this title, arguably one of Image’s best kept secrets, is wrapping things up with issue #15. On the one hand I’ll be sad to see it go, on the other, with that definitive finishing point on the horizon, all bets are off. With only five issues to go, anything could happen, and clearly no characters are safe. To be fair, that’s the way it’s been since the very beginning, as Brisson and Christmas have done their best to squeeze every ounce of tension out the unfolding situation, as nerves amongst the child population of Safe Haven become increasingly frayed, and violence becomes an everyday reality. This issue stands out this week for not only featuring perhaps the most desperately sad pull-back I’ve seen in comics this year but also for another of the series’ heartstopping cliffhangers. I’ve no idea how this will all pan out but you can be damn sure I’m sticking around to find out. 8/10

ORIGINAL SIN #5
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike Deadato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: AKA, the Secret History of Nicholas Joseph Fury. I can’t get a bead on this series any more. Every time it seems to have pulled something rather magnificent out of the hat it then goes off in a direction that brings it dangerously close to fan fiction. Without getting into spoilers, what’s revealed here is a lot to swallow, even when you consider the genre and also a publisher that’s been delivering ongoing adventures featuring these characters for half a century.  Some of its clever enough, but it does come across as an idea spitballed at a Marvel creative summit without any fine-tuning to ensure ‘plausibility’ (and it potentially invalidates some of the great tales over recent years featuring Colonel Fury). With three issues to go it’s going to have its work cut out to convince me it’s anything other than a bizarre, half-baked excursion through the Marvel Universe. 5/10

BLACK WIDOW #8
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Phil Noto
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: In such a big pull-list week such as this, and with being quite behind in some of my reading, I’ve not been checking the solicitations as much as I used to and so this ‘reunion’ issue from Edmondson and Noto was a pleasant, nostalgic surprise as Natasha heads out on another mercenary mission and bumps into one Bucky Barnes in the process. Edmondson honours Brubaker’s later Captain America and Winter Soldier work by showing us Bucky’s ongoing conflict over the life he had with Natasha, now erased from her side of the picture in one previous and lasting cruel twist. It doesn’t change anything between them, but it’s a nice reminder of their history and his feelings towards her. All of this is played out in something of a run-of-the-mill, outnumbered, but never outgunned scenario which just aims to facilitate this reunion and act as a distraction for Black Widow so that the real and truly interesting plot thrust - taking place a thousand miles away with her accountant and confidant, Isaiah - can continue on without her attention. The interesting thing now will be to see whether that hefty sub plot will continue to play out as this book and Edmondson’s Punisher title head into crossover territory in the next few months, or if we’ll be left waiting to return and discover Isaiah’s fate at a later date. Ooooh, delicious intrigue! 7/10

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #7
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

James R: This has turned into the best month for Superman for a long time: after a confident start for Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr in Superman last week, it's now the turn of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee to step up to the plate in Unchained. That said, it's almost a Justice League book as Superman calls on the support of Batman and Wonder Woman in his struggle against Wraith. Does it break bold, new ground? Hardly. Is it the comic of the year? Definitely not. Is it a lot of fanboy-pleasing fun? Absolutely! Snyder plays the blockbuster card here, and throws everything at us. Batman using every Batmobile as a weapon? Yep. The Fortress of Solitude under siege from the military? Yep. Superman using some largely pointless, but cool-looking battle armour? Oh yes! Last year, I used my review of Man Of Steel to highlight that it was Superman that was my first great comics love and, reading this issue, I definitely could feel those sparks of excitement that I used to feel as a kid. Superman Unchained won't be around for much longer, but that's okay - I've certainly loved the ride. 8/10

MOON KNIGHT #5
Write: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shavey & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It’s a fair point to say that during his short stint on this relaunched title, Warren Ellis hasn’t really attempted to get under the skin of Mark Spector or develop the Moon Knight mythology, and with the next issue being his last, that’s unlikely to happen now. But, as long as you accept that’s the case, and that Ellis had his own specific motivations for taking a crack at the character, then what you’re left with is very much a textbook case of how to deliver a perfect ‘done in one’ contemporary superhero adventure. It’s tightly constructed with no evidence of flab, every wonderfully illustrated panel serving its purpose, propelling the narrative forward at an incredibly brisk pace. As with previous issues, it’s over far too quickly, and some may question how much value for money you’re getting for $3.99, but if you look back carefully you’d be hard pressed to find anything that could be improved. Even with this issue’s similarity in set up to The Raid and Dredd, it’s a brilliantly executed, thrilling read, and when it comes down to it, it’s hard to argue with that. 8/10

EAST OF WEST #13
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

James R: I know that in my reviews the kudos tends to go to the writers - a good plot is what primarily appeals to me as a comics fan - but this month I feel it's time to tip my fedora in the direction of Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin, as this issue of East of West is a spectacular visual treat. Hickman's script is good as always, but I'm often showering him with praise - here, Nick Dragotta conveys both kinetic energy and supernatural drama in a jaw-dropping way. As Death faces off with the Texas Ranger, the fight begins miles apart, and the artist masterfully captures the speed and intensity of the clash. Simultaneously, he illustrates Crow and Wolf's tussle with the otherworldly forces who have come to claim the body and soul of Wolf's late father. We all know that an awful lot of comics boil down to fight scenes and the build up to them, but here Dragotta and Martin really do turn them into an art form. East Of West really is a wonderfully idiosyncratic book; and after 13 issues it continues to surprise and astonish me. 8/10

Stewart R: We get pulled from pillar to post in East Of West as the issues roll on, the cast size increases and the various machinations whirr ever onwards, and never once does that jinking back and forth grow tiresome or boring. It's testament to Hickman's writing and the art of Dragotta and Martin that every plot thread draws you in and you then feel rewarded with the first glimpses of where you'll be heading to view this expansive journey from next. That is prefectly, absolutely perfectly displayed here as we rejoin Death's party as they deal with the fall out of Cheveyo's departing in their own ways; Wolf and Crow left to deal with the metaphysical repercussions while Death rolls up his sleeves and tackles the mortal lawman responsible for robbing him of his quarry. It plays out impressively as Dragotta flexes his artistic muscles and then... then.. .then you get that very last impressive page and we realise that something else is playing out while we've been watching the drama here. Superb once again. 9/10

MAGENTO #6
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Javier Fernandez & Dan Brown
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It seems like Cullen Bunn has managed to transform Magneto into a sort of mutant version of the Punisher, dispensing justice to those who prey on mutantkind. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that, as Magento is still very much a man with his own agenda, regardless of whether or not he tries to convince himself (and the reader) otherwise. He may not be as powerful as he once was, but he still implicitly believes his take on things is the only viable way to view the world, and there’s no room in for an arguments to the contrary. Bunn provides the title character with a very strong, persuasive voice, even though what we see in successive panels may not quite match up with what the narration is telling us. Fernandez’ style is a bit looser than Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s work on the initial instalments but it does the job of conveying the dark determination of Magneto, reminding me in parts of Bill Sienkiewicz during his New Mutants phase. A pretty powerful take on the Master of Magnetism, confirming again why he’s one of the greatest villains in superhero fiction. 8/10

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