20 Jul 2014

Mini Reviews 20/07/2014

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.

THE LIFE AFTER #1
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Gabo
Oni Press $3.99


Matt C: The arrival of this book in the UK seems to have been delayed a week for one reason or another, but fortunately I managed to miss any plot specifics when I spotted it getting generally effusive praise from a lot of my usual online haunts.  I had read the a plot summary a while ago but I’d forgotten it by the time I cracked this issue open, which worked in my favour as I was enjoyably perplexed as Fialkov took me on a rather surreal, hallucinatory journey before making everything crystal clear at the end (well, sort of). The writer’s been doing some fine, fine work on another of Oni’s titles, The Bunker, so it shouldn't be a surprise to say he’s crafting something similarly intriguing and arresting here. Gabo’s art really gets the weirdness down on the page, keeping things coherent even when they may warrant a scratching of the head. My advice is steer clear of any plot spoilers if you’re considering taking a plunge into The Life After. And you really should consider it. 8/10

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #2
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson
Image $3.50


James R: Ah, that difficult second album syndrome. A man as obsessed with music as Kieron Gillen will be all-too-familiar with this idea; after a killer introduction, an artist or band find it tough to build on their signature work, often facing a lack of ideas or originality. After loving the first issue, I definitely felt the second album syndrome here, with a deeply underwhelming effort. Last time, Gillen left the audience to join the dots of the narrative, but here he opts for the out-and-out exposition route. Laura has two meetings, one with the now-imprisoned Lucifer, and then with Cassandra, the reporter from the previous issue. Both meetings just largely restate what was quite obvious from the debut issue. Then there's Gillen's dialogue.  When he's good, he is exceptionally funny, but when he's bad, he's eye-rollingly dissonant - "I have a masters degree in comparative mythology and I did my thesis on stories around the recurrence…" - I don't know any expert in a field who feels the need to highlight their qualifications to prove their knowledge. If Gillen is trying to show Cassandra to be insufferable, that's one thing, but there is a degree of 'Look how clever I am' in these pages which should be understated rather than shouted. Then, finally, it all culminates in an image which felt so laughably out-of-place and trite, I couldn't take it seriously. I'll give The Wicked + The Divine a couple more issues to see if it regains the sophistication of #1, but this was a comic that hit all the wrong notes. 4/10

BLACK MARKET #1
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere
Art: Victor Santos & Adam Metcalfe
BOOM! Studios $3.99


Matt C: I’m still of the opinion that this is a really great premise – disgraced medical practitioner and his ex-con brother discover the cure to all disease is in the DNA of superheroes  – but having read this debut chapter, I’m not convinced that the potential of that premise has been reached yet. Possibly it follows a formulaic narrative approach a little too closely, allowing predictability to rear its head on more than one occasion, but having said that it remains very readable even if there is the lingering wish that things would take an unexpected swerve or two. Santos turns in some effectively dynamic visuals, and Metcalfe takes a pleasing Bronze Age approach to his palette. All in all, it’s decent enough, and I’ll be sticking with it for the duration, hoping that things will kick up a notch. 7/10

ORIGINAL SIN #6
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel Comics  $3.99


James R: It's a worrying sign when the embarrassingly bad Road Force Harley Davidson Ad on the back of this issue is almost as bad as the narrative within. What started off as a great prospect has slowly descended into the most ridiculous event in a while. After the revelation that Nick Fury has not only been Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. all these years, but also the 'Watcher on the Wall', we're now told that the seemingly random team were put together and sent on largely pointless missions… so that he could pick out a worthy successor!? Whaaa? Once again, this series feels like a 'What If?' that's spun horribly out of control. It seems to lurch from one ridiculous situation to another and with two issues left I can't see how this is suddenly going to pull of a satisfying conclusion. It's also seems to have no real input on the Marvel Universe at large, and I'm pleased that I've avoided picking up any of the tie-ins. Over the last couple of years I've been amazed how creators, who are so good in their own titles, could suddenly become so neutered writing for DC. With Original Sin, I can now apply the same to Jason Aaron at Marvel - I can't believe that the man who wrote Scalped and Southern Bastards is the same man responsible for this. I'm sure this series was designed to be jaw-dropping in its revelation, sadly it's ended up as yawn-inducing. 4/10

SHE-HULK #6
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Ron Wimberly
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: Most of the time, as a reader, progressing through a story containing plenty of mystery and intrigue is delightful when you get a reveal and some closure. The payoff is what you build to and wait for and it can be a big driving force to push you on in search of that knowledge and understanding. But sometimes, just sometimes, it can work the other way, the harder way when the reward you receive is further mystery, further intrigue, pulling you down deeper into a story that may give you no immediate answers, may promise  to give you no answers at all, or perhaps give you answers to questions you weren’t expecting to ask. The journey becomes richer and more fulfilling as you wend your way through. When a writer gets into that sort of stride, there’s a good chance you’ll follow them anywhere. Ladies and gentlemen, I feel that Mr Soule is in that sort of stride with She-Hulk. In this issue we get to a point with the dangerous case that Jen and her team are working on, and then, to our frustration - and some of her team mates/colleagues - she does a very sensible thing and shifts her focus elsewhere. It’s a surprising turn of events, it’s well written, well realised and it, on reflection, goes in line with how this title has been building, lead character developing and plot expanding month to month. There’s a certain ‘real world’ feel to how Jen is operating her fledgling business, living her day-to-day life and occasionally busting out the superheroics which then have ramifications to her and those around her. And it’s great. Bloody great. 9/10

MAGNETO #7
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Javier Fernandez, Jordie Bellaire & Dan Brown
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: To my surprise, Magneto is currently manoeuvring its way to the top of my monthly stack of Marvel titles. Surprising, because I didn’t really care for the direction Bendis was taking the character in All-New X-Men and it seemed to me that his depowering had weakened his resolve as a consequence. Bunn, on the other hand, has proven that is most definitely not the case in this series; in fact, Magneto’s resolve may have become stronger now that he has to fight a lot harder to follow his beliefs, misguided though they may be. It’s a bit of a shame to see two artists have to share illustrative duties here, and while I’m glad Walta gets most of the page count (it is my preference to see his sturdier take on the Master of Magnetism), Fernandez acquits himself well, even if it is a bit bizarre that his stint is several pages in the middle of the story rather than as a bookend. That quibble aside, this is really strong stuff, and very worthy of consideration if you’ve not given it a look yet. 8/10

MANIFEST DESTINY #8
Writer: Chris Dingess
Art: Matthew Roberts & Owen Gieni
Image $2.99


Matt C: I’ve been trying to figure out how to encapsulate the appeal of this title for a while now, and after requesting a spot of assistance (thanks, James R!) I think I’ve finally nailed it: Manifest Destiny is like a Doug McClure movie directed by Guillermo del Toro! Basically, it’s a period monster fiction given an injection of smarts thanks to some insightful writing filtered through real historical events, the additional realism coming via Matthew Roberts detailed, durable artwork.  Old-fashioned pulp adventuring spiced up with some modern storytelling methods, Manifest Destiny is, for me, currently the crown jewel of Image’s Skybound imprint. 8/10

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