17 Aug 2014

Mini Reviews 17/08/2014

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.

DARK AGES #1
Writer: Dan Abnett
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
Dark Horse $3.99

Stewart R: The Dark Ages, they were a simpler time, hey? And this is a simpler book from Abnett by the looks of it, the writer sticking to a bare-bones plot, with brief introductions to the mercenary outfit and its leaders, the strange other-worldly antagonists who wreak immediate havok and then a mystery third group whose full motivations are yet to be determined. It all clips along at a fair pace; the mercenary army’s combat-hardened status delivered through succinct narration alone, the elevation of this new opponent to something truly dangerous in their seasoned eyes delivered in just the blurred flash of a handful of panels from Culbard. Abnett even brings the strange monastery to the party in a speedy, straightforward fashion that made me ill-at-ease with the ragged army taking refuge there with a further element of mysterious dread left for Culbard to illustrate in splendid minimalist fashion come the cliffhanger ending. The mild gripe I have about this is that perhaps it feels a little too fast in its delivery, Culbard’s art coming over as a simplified version of his usual reserved style - and quite removed from his eye-stroking work on Brass Sun - and the protagonists lacking for much in the way of character thanks to the pace. Seeing as this is a four-part mini series I suspect character will probably have to step aside to the pressures of action and plot and I just hope that there’s another gear to be found in those departments come #2’s release. 7/10

ORIGINAL SIN #7
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: I guess I’m going to have to write this one of as a failure as it’s highly unlikely it’ll  turn things around now there’s just one issue left to go. An interesting failure or perhaps a misguided failure may be a better description. Heck, I’d even go as far as calling it a noble failure, but it’s a failure all the same.  It’s never appeared to be quite sure what kind of story it’s telling and it’s pushed Nick Fury into a position that stretches plausibility beyond breaking point. It may have given us a hint at how someone else will be picking up Mjolnir very shortly but the whole thing feels like it’s lumbering towards its conclusion. Which is damn shame because Deodato is producing some of the best work of his career. Epic, dynamic, innovative… it’s kind of quality art you’d expect to see in such a high profile release, and it’s certainly made this series a lot more bearable than it perhaps would have been. 5/10


ZERO #10
Writer: Ales Kot
Art: Michael Gaydos & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99


James R: This month we have more evidence of Ales Kot's confidence as a storyteller as we leap in time once again. We're shuttled to the near future, 2022, and we see Edward Zero's life directly after he leaves the Agency. The first part of the book is virtually silent as Kot relies on Gaydos and Bellaire to take us inside Zero's head. They go on to set the tone perfectly as he attempts to start a new life in Iceland (the country, not the questionable UK frozen food supermarket - though I would've like to have seen that!) The second half doesn't quite match up to the strong start, as Zero encounters a public play. The scene, and Zero's conversation with the director, has a definite power, but the parallels between the play and Zero's loss felt a little too obvious. As a comics experience though, it was still a powerful read and another strong issue in a highly impressive series. 8/10


DEATH VIGIL #2
Writer: Stjepan Sejic
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Image/Top Cow $3.99


Stewart R: After last month’s bumper sized spectacular debut, Sejic dials things back a notch and really starts developing his cast and defining the battle lines between the forces of light and dark. In something of a tried and tested formula Sejic uses Clara’s current initiation into the ranks of the Death Vigil as a mirror to Samuel’s own induction all those years ago. He utilises panel repetition and mimicry as a tool to show the very subtle similarities and differences between the two experiences, then reinforcing the differences with the interactions between Samuel and The Reaper, Bernadette, that show a desperate compassion for each other and highlight how this time the ongoing fight feels like something else to them. Broadening the Vigil’s roster with an introduction to James, Marlene and Grace gives this book a definite ‘family feel’ in these early stages, something Sejic alludes to in the dialogue and I know that this will just lead to emotionally draining events for the cast and this reader the further this series goes. Whilst lighter in the action stakes, Sejic still takes time to dip into the odd skirmish and it’s clear that the Vigil’s varied weaponry and skill sets should allow for some inspired and exciting visuals when the bigger battles stomp into sight. So Sejic navigates the ‘difficult second issue’ hurdle with style and the early signs are that Death Vigil could become another of those acclaimed and applauded creator-owned pieces for Top Cow and Image. 8/10


SEX CRIMINALS #7
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Chip Zdarsky & Becka Kinzie
Image $3.50


Matt C: It’s very difficult to convey exactly what makes this book so special because it’s quite unlike anything else out there at the moment. Sure, you can see Fraction’s thumbprints all over it but this is him pushing what he can do in the medium further than he has done before.  Conversely (or perhaps perversely?) it’s also one of the most straight-up honest, funny and relatable depictions of a relationship – no, scratch that – of love in a ‘mainstream’ comic in recent times.  The title of the book results in an almost default expectation of lewd, controversy-baiting content, but while it obviously deals with a lot of mature themes head on, the truth and humour employed to deliver them means it’s anything but offensive. Zdarsky has the tough task of conjuring up imagery where a pile of dildos may make an appearance while trying to keep the emotions of the characters visible above all else, and he does this with enough grace to make it look like its second nature to him. Yeah, it may be very difficult to convey exactly what makes this book so special, so my advice is pick it up and see for yourself. 8/10


STARLIGHT #5
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Goran Parlov & Ive Svorcina
Image $2.99


James R: If the last issue of Starlight was all about set-up, this issue is certainly all about execution in a number of ways. Millar ratchets up the action with Duke McQueen taking on Kingfisher single handed in true Saturday morning serial style. As always with Millar, the issue flies along, but there's a couple of things that are starting to nag at me. Firstly, it's the series' antagonists. Kingfisher and co. are clearly meant to be analogues of Ming the Merciless and the like, but they are just incredibly two-dimensional. It's an ongoing whine of mine that villains are often just nasty for the sake of it. I'd normally look the other way if it was any other writer, but Millar is the man that brought us the magnificent American Jesus, a series that showed how complex evil can be. I also find the Tantalan interest in Earth culture to be slightly awkward and misplaced. (However, I still think it could be a clue as to the origin of Kingfisher - we shall see!) So, a fine issue of Starlight, but lacking the sophistication that Millar has at his disposal. 6/10


INHUMAN #3
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Joe Madureira & Marte Garcia
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: Much like the confused ranks of the newly discovered terrigen mist survivors, Inhuman feels as if  it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. The early chapters seemed to be suggesting that we were going to be following the experience through the eyes of protagonist-in-waiting Dante following his family’s life altering journey through the haze of Black Bolt’s greater plan, yet now feeling like a character piece for Medusa to stride through purposefully, the plethora of familiar Inhumans and newer recruits acting as support to make this try to feel like the bigger, bolder title Marvel had initially been trying to sell it as. Soule even throws us a curveball here with a big yank on a plot thread that brings to a swift and somewhat disappointingly anticlimactic end the conflict he appeared to be focussing on in order to cast his net far wider with the promise of a greater danger looming on the horizon. I’m sure Soule will reignite the feud at a later date, it’s just a shame to see things fizzle out so quickly. To that end it makes sense that he introduces Jason as I imagine we’ll then see the story progress from his and Dante’s perspectives, but it feels like we’ve waited a long time - let us not forget that #1 was with us the first week of April - to get three issues in and feel that we’re only at the very beginning of this story. The delay and stuttering plot have of course been a result of the writer change, but I can’t help but feel that Madureira’s art may have also had a hand in the timekeeping, his last effort on interiors here being respectable enough, yet reminding me that I miss those days when the likes of Tom McWeeney gave his pencils strong definition with their steady inks. I’m confident that Soule, given time will deliver something worthy of the Inhumans, I’m just not sure that I’ve got the patience and the money to warrant finding out. 5/10


BATMAN #34
Writers: Scott Snyder & Gerry Duggan
Art: Matteo Scalera & Lee Loughridge
DC Comics $3.99


James R: So, the epic 'Zero Year' is over, and it's back to 'Regular' Batman! It's a treat though, as this detective-work heavy one-shot reminded me of Snyder's early work with the Dark Knight (the brief Dick Grayson iteration). It's suitably moody in tone via Matteo Scalera, who channels Sean Murphy in his visuals - no bad thing indeed. This is merely a brief interlude before an 'All-new, super-awesome storyline' (according to DC's All Access page) and it's a fine refresher on why Batman is such a great character. The relentless and ingenious - and yep, bad-ass - figure operating in a bleak city... let's face it, it just works! After a rocky period following the start of the New 52, there are definitely signs that DC is definitely getting it's house in order again, and this book is a great example of that. 7/10

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