24 Aug 2014

Mini Reviews 24/08/2014

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.

THE FADE OUT #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.50

James R: What an absolute treat this is. If you've ever got the time (or the insane inclination) to search back through our reviews, you'll see that we've always had a lot of love for the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. The two have become the undisputed kings of the noir crime comic. I absolutely loved Sleeper, Criminal and Incognito, but following an intriguing start Fatale never quite clicked for me. Partially, I think it's because even though Lovecraftian horror can be seen as 'pulp', it's not in the same way that crime tales and superhero comics were. As such, I didn't think it was the two men at their best. The first issue of the The Fade Out however, promises that the Brubaker-Phillips team is firing on all cylinders. This tale sees them back to doing what I think they do best - straight up crime - and it’s set in the black beating heart of the best hardboiled tales: Hollywood in the early 20th century. It's a masterclass from Brubaker as he introduces his cast and a murder that hints at a dark plot. By means of a quick comparison, if we think back to Matt Fraction's Satellite Sam (which tried to do a similar thing), this is simply a class apart. As always, Sean Phillips art is pitch-perfect, with a terrific eye for period detail. The issue is backed up with a great essay - this time from Badass Digest's Devin Faraci - and it all adds up to a complete and magnificent comic. I'm holding off on the 10 score until I’ve seen a few more chapters, but it was one hell of a first issue! 9/10

Matt C: Brubaker and Phillip’s collaborative sensibilities meant that a project like The Fade Out was always inevitable, the surprise being that it’s taken them this long to get there. Crime fiction has generally been their forte, whether it’s purely hardboiled or it’s been mixed with superheroic or supernatural elements - noir tropes always in evidence - but they’ve never really dived into the era where it was arguably at its peak… until now. Set in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood in the 1940s, the writer and artist bring us into a world where money can buy silence and murder can be swept under the carpet if there’s a even a whiff of bad publicity. Of course it’s a very familiar world, but that doesn’t present a problem if the storytelling is in the hands of master craftsman, which it is here. This more in the vein of Criminal than Incognito or the recent Fatale, and anyone entertained by that series will find plenty to enjoy within these pages. 8/10

MULTIVERSITY #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Nei Ruffino
DC $4.99

James R: I've said before that Grant Morrison is the ultimate love-him-or-hate-him writer, but I do find myself being in a strange netherworld when it comes to his work. I simultaneously love his invention and the way that careful reading of his stories really pays off, yet I can't help but think "Ah, the same ideas over and over again!" Multiversity, his latest epic, is really a continuation of Final Crisis, a book that - once again - enthralled and infuriated in equal measure. The DC multiverse is in peril from an egregious and extra-dimensional force - that's the basic plot, but the remarkable aspect of the series is that it's like a Russian Matryoshka doll; each issue 'exists' within the next book in the series. I'm compelled by this idea, and I really want to see how Morrison pulls it off (though I will award a No-Prize if it all concludes with Morrison himself being revealed as God… again!) but the threat and the multiverse idea itself feels pretty tired - one of our first stops in the plot is a none-too-subtle analogue of the Marvel universe. Heaving read Jonathan Hickman visiting a none-too-subtle analogue of the DC universe in New Avengers recently, I would love it if - just once - the Big Two could do an alternate universe plot that doesn't have to make reference to the competition. It's all nicely illustrated by Reis, Prado and Ruffino, but I'm more excited to see Chris Sprouse in the artist's chair for issue #2. It's certainly beguiling enough for me to want to come back but I hope Morrison starts playing a new tune on his trans-dimensional yacht soon. 7/10

NEW AVENGERS #23
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Kev Walker & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The moral quandaries at the centre of this series are what’s making it rise above its sister title at the moment (even though that book is incorporating some of the same subject matter effectively). Having participated in the destruction of another Earth, the Illuminati are now faced with the choice of either doing it again or accepting the alternative. If it’s the latter option, then they each need to figure out how they should spend their final hours. It’s heavy stuff, even in such far-fetched surroundings, but Hickman’s serious approach helps up the believability levels, allowing him to explore one of his favourite recurring themes: men in power being faced with impossible decisions, how they deal with those decisions, and how it affects their moral fibre (or lack thereof). I’d still have preferred if Steve Epting had stuck around to this point, but Walker does a decent job of conveying the weight on the shoulders of T’Challa, Reed Richards et al. 8/10

SUPREME: BLUE ROSE #2
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Tula Lotay
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I certainly got a sense of bewildering enjoyment from the first issue of Supreme: Blue Rose, enough to make me pick up this second instalment without hesitation, yet having read it I’m now leaning towards brain-numbing confusion rather than mystifying intrigue. Buried amongst the quantum mechanics-fused dialogue appears to be the loose idea of a story to protect and ensure a far off future and I’m guessing that this story’s shape will become far clearer and defined as the months progress. It’s just unfortunate that the attempts to bring character to the page in the shape of Diana Dane and Chelsea Henry makes the story indistinct and confusing as the ‘realities’ for both these women appear to lose cohesion at various points. I’m guessing that Ellis and Lotay are trying to show us the fluidity of reality in this comic book world and how large a part individual perception plays in the building of such constructs, but for this reader it was too much, all at once. I’m not sure I was helped out by a copy that may potentially have had printing problems as some of the pages seemed to suffer from slight colour ‘ghosting’, but my inexperience with Lotay’s work may also mean that I’ve possibly misinterpreted her intended style. I can see the vague outline of an engrossing read in the murky waters of Supreme: Blue Rose, but after two issues I’m not willing enough to get my feet wet to try and grab it. 5/10

James R: My gut instinct is to embrace this book with open arms. In principle, there's a whole lot to love. Starting with Tula Lotay's incredibly distinctive and dream-like art, this book is crammed with interesting ideas and asides. Warren Ellis fills the pages with time travel and possible universes (in a way that's far richer than Grant Morrison managed this week) as Diane Dane begins her investigation into a 'Blue Rose case’. At this moment, its relationship to Liefield's Supreme is micron-thin - this is Warren Ellis in full SF mode, and as always, it's thrilling to read. The only thing that's holding me back from a full fanboy adoration is what I call the ‘Ellis Abandon’. If you read our recent piece on unfinished books, I highlighted that Warren Ellis does have a tendency to leave his plots unfulfilled. Just when you think "Ah, now this is going somewhere…" - it's done! So, for now I shall enjoy Blue Rose as a book full of class and promise, and cross my fingers that it's one that blossoms into unbridled magnificence. 8/10

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #3
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson
Image $3.50

Matt C: After an arresting opening the lustre has started to wear off, for me at least. I still think the central concept is strong (in a nutshell: gods as rock stars) but an issue I’ve had with some of Gillen’s writing since way back in Phonogram is becoming too much of a distraction. He has a habit of coming across as far too smug on occasion, and The Wicked + The Divine sees that trait as a regular occurrence. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good writer; Journey Into Mystery remains his high point, and the smugness was kept well in check there, although it did start to creep in throughout Young Avengers (but fortunately not to its overall detriment). Three and Uber are possibly the books where it was barely noticeable, which leads me to think it’s a symptom of him taking on tales featuring late teens/early twenties protagonists, where there’s this need to convince the reader that he’s still ‘down with the kids’. I wanted to be onboard with this book, but that smugness has quickly become a real turn off (and the shame of it is that McKelvie’s artwork is some of the best I’ve seen from him yet). By design, this is the kind of series that will have an incredibly loyal fanbase, but while I can understand why and will admit there’s much to admire about it, three issues in I’ve made the decision that it’s not for me. 5/10

ELEKTRA #5
Writer: W. Haden Blackman
Art: Michael Del Mundo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: What a glorious five-issue arc this has been from Blackman and Del Mundo! Savage, mesmerizing and relentless, these creators have woven a tale filled with globe-trotting excitement, intimate character examination and superbly delivered hand-to-hand combat. We’ve been swept through an introduction to Elektra and her current outlook on her life, a new and brilliant antagonist’s hazy origin and powerset in the form of Bloody Lips, and led to a point where things for this skilled, sai-wielding assassin can only go from bad to worse. I have appreciated the way that Blackman kept Cape Crow as the mysterious prize for so long and then, in the turn of 20-odd pages, managed to make a worthy opponent seem just like the tip of a terrible and dangerous iceberg heading Elektra’s way. Of course Mike Del Mundo’s artwork has really made this book stand out from the crowd and in this particular chapter he demonstrates his fine grasp of focus within his panels - something we don’t often see in this two-dimensional medium - his soft-focus treatment of things in the fore or backgrounds giving his work tremendous depth. Then there’s that standout double-page splash with its jarring and haunting style which I’ll be thinking about for days to come. I honestly cannot recommend this new series highly enough if you’re looking for something a little different with an incredibly high stamp of quality emblazoned upon it. 9/10

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