4 Aug 2014

Mini Reviews 03/08/2014

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.

LOW #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini
Image $3.99

Stewart R: Having recently dropped one underwater series from Image - the middling Undertow - and finished another aquatic adventure just this week in the The Wake (reviewed below), Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s Low arrives just in time to see my amphibiously enhanced comic book needs met once again. And pleasantly surprised I was too with this debut which looks at a future iteration of Earth where the last pockets of humanity survive in the depths of the world’s oceans, hiding away from a Sun set to go supernova and wipe all life from the planet unless mankind can find a home elsewhere first. That’s the overriding setup, but Remender quickly takes us in a different direction as the family most likely to provide hope and solutions for this grave scenario then come under attack from pirates, eager for revenge and seeking the instruments of their own brief salvation. I enjoyed Remender’s playful family dialogue, all of the adults and children instantly instilled with their own distinctive characters and the peril that comes their way feels weighty as a result. Tocchini’s curvaceous and liquid art style is perfectly suited to this science fiction setting and his colour work is some of the richest he’s ever produced. The tense and traumatic way that this debut draws to a close would make this a superb open ended comic in its own right, but as a prologue to another highly promising Rick Remender production this makes #2 unmissable in my book. 9/10

Matt C: Not as convincing out of the gate as either Black Science or Deadly Class, Low still has potential on display, although there are hints it may struggle to attain the staying power of those other two books. The family at the centre of the story so far are fairly well-established early on, but the environment they exist in a little less so. That’s not a major problem for a debut, so at this stage I’m not marking it down as a negative, but even so the setup of the opposing forces could perhaps have required a little more clarity. Perhaps Tocchini’s artwork compounds this feeling as although there’s some sumptuous imagery on display, there’s a murkiness to some of the art (necessary I suppose, given the underwater setting) that doesn’t always makes things clear as they could be. It also seems to veer close to some current titles on occasion (I’m thinking The Wake and Undertow) which again isn’t necessarily an issue at this stage, but may require a bit more work than usual to embed differentiation.  When it comes down to it though, even though I might have second thoughts about continuing if another writer was at the helm, I have too much faith in Remender to abandon ship at this stage. 6/10

James R: Rick Remender has a slate of fine books out this week - Black Science returns with a strong chapter and Uncanny Avengers finished its current arc with another great issue - but I was most interested to see what his new title, Low would look like. All told, I found it a curious debut. Given that Remender has good form in creating powerful first issues, Low felt a little underwhelming. Set far in the future, our Sun has entered the final phase of its life and started to inflate, making existence on the surface of the Earth impossible. The remnants of humanity now live in cities deep in the ocean as far as possible from the unforgiving Sun, and we're introduced to a family in one of these cities, the Caines. The previews of the title focused on a chase to find a returned deep space probe, but this issue actually focuses on the plight of the Caines as they venture beyond the dome of Salus. I couldn't help but be reminded of the McKay family dynamic in Black Science, and Remender pulls them apart as a unit before we can really start to get to know them. My real problem though comes with Greg Tocchini's artwork. It has a dreamy feel which, in some respects, is a great fit for a book predominantly set underwater, but there were numerous sequences where the narrative seemed unclear, and a number of pages which were designed to be 'big reveal' or 'widescreen' images, but, due to the colouring, struck me as underwhelming (the double title page being a perfect example). As always with Remender, there are some fine ideas here and I'll give it a couple of issues to see where it goes, but on the basis of this opener, my dive to the depths with Low might stay in the shallows. 6/10

Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $3.50

Matt C: Perhaps the previous Poyo one-shot from a couple of years back won me over with such force because it was so unexpectedly hilarious, a chapter featuring a secondary character that managed to best anything else the main series had offered in terms of delicious invention. This issue is moderately amusing by comparison. There are some good jokes but overall it struggles to find a foothold, a tossed away idea given a new lease of life, perhaps unwisely. I have been feeling like Chew has been running out of steam recently and this comic seems to reinforce that. 6/10

Writer: Si Spencer
Art: Megan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay & Phil Winslade
DC/Vertigo $3.99

James R: Ugh, I wanted to like this book, I really did. A Vertigo series set in London over four different time periods, but unified by an identical murder in each? Ingenious. Sadly, Si Spencer's first issue is a misfire for me. Firstly, there's the metaphysical mystery at the heart of the book:  straight out the gate, there's 'Chaos Magick' thrown into the mix (a term in fiction along with ‘Quantum Physics’ used as a shorthand explanation for an under-developed idea) and the Victorian sections might as well have been a couple of pages taken from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's seminal From Hell, such was the degree of 'inspiration' on show. Then there's the dialogue - in both the present day, Victorian and 1940s sections the dialogue felt incredibly hackneyed. I don't know if Spencer has an eye on the American market, but to British ears, it felt very false: "Bloody hell, copper go easy!" I wouldn't mind too much in standard DC book, but this is a Vertigo title, and Spencer could have given us a lot more verisimilitude. This also extends to our first protagonist - the Muslim police officer D.S. Hasan – as I found it incredibly hard to believe that a detective would be back in uniform as part of the riot squad, and then immediately dashing off to a murder scene. I have to salute the ambition and the idea behind this book, but in execution this fell well short for me. 4/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuna
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I suppose with such a great lead-up, disappointment was always a possibility, and while this by no means a disastrous conclusion to the Kang storyline, disappointment is indeed palpable. Shades of the original Secret Wars are in evidence as the Conqueror becomes an omnipotent threat to the universe which, while unavoidable in a sense, kind of robs the narrative of its impetus, the recycling of ideas becoming distracting. It also wraps up a little too quickly, so the final kicker, although affecting, isn’t quite the emotional bombshell it could have been. Acuna’s artwork is beautifully bold and cataclysmic, and overall it’s a good read, I just expected something greater, something that would linger for longer. 7/10

C.O.W.L. #3
Writer: Kyle Higgins Alec Siegel
Art: Rod Reis
Image $3.50

Matt C: Political manoeuvrings on a citywide scale, the uncovering of corruption and dark secrets, period gender discrepancies manifesting themselves in a world of alpha males… C.O.W.L. is becoming an increasingly impressive series, operating on a number of levels, a broad, audacious look at a fictionalized Chicago that is invigoratingly intelligent and adult, applying a level of realism to superhero tropes  that is marking it out as something special. In a nutshell, C.O.W.L. is turning into something very, very good indeed, and it definitely isn’t a series that should be readily ignored. If you like comics that require the wearing of a thinking cap, you really need to get on board with C.O.W.L. as soon as possible. 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: For the purposes of this review and my own sanity (okay, it’s not quite that bad) I’ve had to read this finale of The Wake three times through, cover to cover. I don’t tend to read comics in this repeated fashion - a solid first read is usually enough, followed by a flick through when reviewing - but with this one I really was not sure if a) I fully understood what had just transpired and b) whether I actually enjoyed the read regardless. I sit here now convinced that Snyder can be happy with what he’s brought to paper over ten issues, his vision complete and the story he wanted to tell now told, it’s just I’m not convinced that ten issues was quite enough to cover this tale that time-hopped with a change to the focus of the premise midway through. The frantic pace that the first half of this conclusion pounds along at felt more like the cracked whip of the page count talking rather than the needs of the plot - something the second half of the series also suffered from occasionally - while the exposition-filled grand reveal, and it’s a science fiction doozie, is well measured, depicted in Murphy’s usual high quality manner and shows that Snyder was aiming at a far higher concept than perhaps was clear to see during the debut many months ago. There’s no denying that the aquatic horror vibe of the first five chapters were the strongest part of this series and part of me wishes that we’d been given more of Dr Archer’s story. I personally believe that we could have ended up with something more fulfilling if the grand scheme hadn’t been so ‘grand’ when the brilliantly promising and futuristic waterworld setting became nothing more than a passenger upon a speeding bullet of pure idea travelling dizzyingly and relentlessly to this slightly off-kilter, highbrow target of a conclusion. Not Snyder’s best, but by no means a big disappointment. 6/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: Yet again, this book continues to amaze me. From the incredible wrap-around cover, to the terrific final page reveal, Mind MGMT is a joy to behold. I was mildly amused by the banner that Dark Horse attached to the issue; 'Starting Point For New Readers!' Well, you could say that, but if this was your first issue, you'd have two years of careful planning from Matt Kindt totally spoilt! This month, Kindt joins the dots for his audience, as we’re given the back story of the book's main protagonist, Henry Lyme. Moments that have been referenced in the previous 23 issues are meticulously weaved together in a plot that's equal parts dramatic and heartbreaking.  Beyond the terrific reality-warping skills of the MGMT agents, the book's great strength is its humanity - in Meru and Lyme, Kindt’s created two characters who are fully realised, and watching the dynamic between them change as the truth about their relationship has been revealed is an ongoing thrill. As always, the writer encodes his pages with secrets and hints - just like the agents can encode the world in the book - and it all adds up to the complete comics package for me.  A thrilling read, and a peerless series, in a week of very strong books it takes something special to be my book of the week, and Mind MGMT is, as always, that good. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Valerio Schiti, Salvador Larroca, Frank Martin & Paul Mounts
Marvel  $3.99

Matt C: This issue really hit the spot. I guess because we’ve building up to this moment for such a long time now - the moment that the Illuminati finally put their money where their mouth is - that now it’s arrived, and is handled in such an adroit, thrilling manner by Hickman, it’s nigh on impossible to resist getting swept up in it all. This is all about powerful men learning whether they have the stomach to make decisions that will leave their hands bloodied for eternity, the writer presenting the moral quagmire the likes of Reed Richards, T’Challa and Namor find themselves navigating through with a bristling intelligence. I would have liked to have had Steve Epting see things through to this stage but the art team here do a decent job of conveying the heightened emotions of the situation.  An unquestionable high point in Hickman’s run. 10/10

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

Matt C: As with the debut issue, the things that strike me the most about Outcast are Kirkman’s  fleshed-out, believable characters, Azaceta’s frim linework (and the little incidental panels he throws in to great effect) and Breitweiser’s wonderfully moody colours.  It feels like you could strip out all the supernatural elements and this book would remain compelling and essential. That’s a mark of very good storytelling and that fact that there are the supernatural elements, adds an extra few layers of creepiness, make Outcast a very enthralling proposition indeed. 8/10

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