15 Sep 2014

Mini Reviews 14/09/2014

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.

COPPERHEAD #1
Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski & Ron Riley
Image £3.50


Matt C: A space Western. Not an original concept, and Faerber admits as much in the back of the book, but it is a potent genre, with a multitude of storytelling possibilities, taking a familiar template and embellishing it with more fantastical elements, keeping the core of grit and resilience in evidence, especially amongst the key protagonist(s). There is of course the potential for this approach to lead into hackneyed, uninspired territory, but fortunately Copperhead avoids this completely thanks to the engaging twists on the archetypes, the dynamic, crisp art and the sandblasted colour scheme. A great start for series with a lot of promise. 8/10

Stewart R: As is the style these days, Jay Faerber takes a moment in the back of this debut to provide us with insight into how the collaboration and idea for Copperhead came about and the big influences that have helped to form it. He mentions live action and animated science fiction television series with Wild West elements to them and it’s clear to see how the ‘feel’ of some of those properties has found its way into this polished and highly enjoyable opener. Faerber gets an awful lot covered in a short space of time (well it’s actually 28 glorious pages of cover to cover storytelling and great value for money, but you know what I mean!) as Clara Bronson is quickly established as the new, no-nonsense Sheriff in town with her young son in tow and evidently a few skeletons lurking in the historical closet. Faerber puts her in some great situations to display her capabilities, allowing artist Scott Godlewski the chance to deliver a fantastic, minimal-yet-impactful entrance with her arrival at Copperhead and then a longer scuffle with dynamic angles and viewpoints which shows Clara’s not invulnerable, but definitely has tenacity on her side. Throughout the issue much is left to Godlewski’s visual storytelling and fine range with facial expression to set tone; every sideways glance, grimace or furrowed brow adds to the tension and adds further quality to a really great read. The story has plenty of promise with hints at Clara’s troubled past and a potential clash with Copperhead’s most powerful resident likely to be on the cards and in a week of high quality on the shelves this gets a Book of the Week nod from yours truly. 9/10

James R: One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to walk the fine line between being 'inspired by' a particular trope, and inadvertently presenting a hackneyed version of it. For example, if you look at Ed Brubaker's noir crime tales, there are nods to the classic trappings of crime fiction - the femme fatale, the mean streets - yet he always infuses them with a fresh energy that works. In Copperhead, Jay Faerber takes us to a world that - by his own admittance - we've been to before. The notion of making alien worlds analogous to the Wild West has been done many times previously, but what he aims for here is 'Deadwood in space'. On the evidence of this first issue, he misses that lofty goal by some way. In attempting to use the elements of the Western, he ends up establishing a world that's painfully familiar. I loved the idea of having protagonist Sheriff Bronson being a single mother, but that's about it. Like an over-familiar song on the radio, Copperhead barely registered with me as I read it. This could yet yield some surprises, but for me it lacked anything to pull me back for a second issue. Instead, I'll turn to Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein's upcoming Drifter from Image Comics, and hope that creative team walk that fine line more adeptly. 4/10

ANNIHILATOR #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frazer Irving
Legendary Comics $3.99


James R: When we meet up, I often like to annoy/amuse my good PCG friends with my Grant Morrison impression: *assume bad Scottish accent* "Ayyyye, my new book features a hero who is bald, or a misunderstood genius - and, right, there's a moment where the line between fiction and reality is blurrrrred! Let's all do acid!"  And hey! Wouldn't you know it - in Annihilator , Grant Morrison brings us a tale featuring a (semi)bald misunderstood  genius in a tale where the lines between fiction and reality are blurred! I know certain authors do have their themes that they return to again and again, but for me, in Annihilator, Morrison borders on self-parody. Legendary Comics - the print arm of the movie studio - absolutely feels like a means for unproduced/undeveloped scripts to see the light of day, and this book reads like that. I'm never wholly convinced by Frazer Irving's art either - he oscillates between the magnificent (the sadly unfinished Gutsville) and the woeful (his recent work on Uncanny X-Men) and here it's the same - certain pages look fantastic, whilst others look undercooked. Grant Morrison superfans will probably lap this up, but at $3.99 a point, it's a vanity project too far for me. 4/10

DARK AGES #2
Writer: Dan Abnett
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
Dark Horse $3.99


Stewart R: I was not convinced by the debut of Dark Ages, but Abnett and Culbard’s work on this second issue has brought me round and I’m looking forward to what the remainder of this miniseries brings. Abnett slows things down this time around, giving the harassed mercenaries a brief respite following a night of horror and defeat and provides the story with some exposition and expansion as we learn more about the monastery playing temporary host to the depleted force of warriors and the silent order that calls the place home. I particularly enjoyed the way Abnett pushes Lucifer to the fore, forced to take on the mantle of leadership and rally his troops against mysterious powers, every part of his training and experience needed to prevent his fears and imaginings getting the better of him. It falls to young soldier Martlet to let his doubts and suspicions lead him to the key behind why the dead rise and terrors seek the blood of his compatriots and the character reactions to any new reveal are great. The whole thing unfolds coherently and importantly, with Culbard’s simple, steady visual storytelling complimenting Abnett’s improved script, this is a more engaging read overall. 7/10

AVENGERS #34.1
Writer: Al Ewing
Art:
Dale Keown, Norman Lee & Jason Keith
Marvel $4.99

 

Matt C: I guess I should have known better when a 'point one' issue comes along with a different creative team and a jacked up price point ($4.99!) but I've been thoroughly enjoying the current iteration  of Earth's Mightiest Heroes so I decided to take a chance on this, a single-issue focus on Hyperion. There have been similar issues spotlighting this character recently (one of the best being Avengers World #6) and they've been really effective at getting into the psyche of this comparatively unknown quantity. This on the other hand, wasn't really revealing in the slightest, and instead we're offered a clich├ęd take on an 'alien' superhero trying to find a purpose in his adopted world. If you've read enough Superman comics in your time then you know what you'll be in for but while that doesn't discount the possibility of achieving an affecting take on the character, that's not what we get here. It's all rather bland, and that goes for the art too, which is surprising as I remember Dale Keown producing some exceptional work on Incredible Hulk 20 odd years ago. Entirely skippable for those invested in Hickman's take on the characters. 5/10

EAST OF WEST #15
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50


James R: I had to think long and hard when it came to my book of the week this week - it was an incredibly close call between this and Greg Rucka's magnificent Lazarus. East Of West won out though as a) I have a feeling the book will be lavished with rightful praise by my comrades in the PCG and b) I have a feeling Lazarus will be featuring very heavily in our next Top 15 Current Books article (coming soon!) What makes this issue of East of West so good? Previously, I've highlighted Hickman's ‘Big Ideas’ and world building and Dragotta and Martin's beautiful art. This time, it's something that most of us love - a brilliant narrative twist. After only seeing him briefly, Death's son (now entitled Babylon) takes centre stage, as he escapes the deadly Horsemen, and is then liberated out into the world… but what world is he seeing? In a book that's already rich with layers and facets, Hickman shows great confidence to add yet another. One of the things that I love about East Of West is its lack of a clear protagonist - every character is in some way, compromised. Either by their past, their birth or the machinations of others, and the plot rumbles forward with a constant and compelling sense of foreboding. It's been fascinating to watch Hickman develop as a writer over the last few years, and as admirable and as enjoyable as his run on Avengers is, East Of West is, for me, the writer at his best, equally matched by an amazing visual team. 9/10

Stewart R: With the many tangled political threads that Hickman and Dragotta have been weaving through this world in recent issues it’s good to be reminded here of possibly the biggest and potentially explosive thread of all and that comes in the shape of Death and Xiaolian’ son. It seems that this is the point where the story really takes a shift in gear as the young imprisoned boy makes his play for freedom and in doing so shows the audience just how capable he could be as he meets members of the Horsemen for the first time. I love Hickman’s use of dialogue here as the boy interacts with his electronic teacher and guardian; the commands and reasoning of young Babylon displaying his intelligence while Balloon’s subordinate confirmations are laced with hints of manipulation which we, the audience, can see only too clearly. Dragotta plays a huge part here, instilling the appearance of Babylon with a manga-influenced, techno horror vibe, the disconnect of the visor and various wires robbing the boy of much of his humanity.  With page time for both Death and Xiaolin separately, this all comes together to show a family well and truly fractured and thrown to the wind, each pushed on by their own motivations or the control by others. When this family gets its reunion, if it should happen (and being Hickman that’s no guaranteed scenario), well, it’ll be one heck of a spectacle to witness! 9/10

LAZARUS #11
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Sandi Arcas & Tyler Boss
Image $3.50


Matt C: The stylish, evocative cover image pays off in spades with the eleventh chapter of one of the finest books currently being published. Midway through the issue Forever arrives on the outskirts of Carlyle territory to receive a message from the Bittner Lazarus, Sonja. It’s a brilliantly cinematic sequence from Lark, the staging and pacing a masterclass in how to create tension on the printed page, the wintery environment adding substantially to the atmosphere.  The Game Of Thrones comparison still holds weight, as the various families pursue their tenuous alliances to favourably manipulate their fortunes in the global community, the main difference being (so far) the focus being mostly centred on one family and some members of the ‘Waste’ who reside within their borders. That’s more than enough for now, as the dynamic between the characters – particularly Forever’s slow realisation that not everything is as it should be on her family – is being skilfully chronicled by Rucka, and the fact that there is so much more to be explored in this world leads me to think that the best is yet to come. 9/10

DEATH VIGIL #3
Writer: Stejpan Sejic
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Top Cow $3.99


Stewart R: The main cast now properly introduced and the basic premise of the fight between good and evil set out, Sejic takes the opportunity to muddy the waters a little as he explores Clara’s acclimation to her new surrounds, confirming that there is something different about her compared to the rest of the Death Vigil, while also introducing other parties who appear to show that this battle is a far greyer battleground that perhaps we first thought. The efforts of Clara to gain an education about her unique veilripper are handled in lighthearted fashion, building upon the Vigil acting like a family for its ragtag members and then giving Sejic change to really play with the panel format once she pushes into the unpredictable nature of a trial-and-error education in the field. This writer/artist continues to show the variety within his storytelling, here saving his bolder pages for detailed flashbacks and psychic interactions and electing to put the big monster battle into the background of Samuel’s necromancer skirmish. While I am generally enjoying the density of the dialogue and panel heavy way in which Sejic is delivering Death Vigil, this is the first time I’ve felt things get just a little too cluttered at odd moments with some rather small panels having to appear in other small panels just to ensure everything fits in. That’s likely a sign of a storyteller’s writing and artistic sides clashing and I imagine as things continue Sejic’s style will find a better balanced compromise. Tiny concerns aside, Death Vigil remains an engrossing read! 8/10

AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #10
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Tigh Walker & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $2.99

 

Stewart R: So that’s that then! The series is complete and for now at least, the story of these troubled survivors of Murderworld and would be Young Masters of Evil (undercover or not) has come to a close. Hopeless does well to tie up the main thrust of the story by once again examining the purpose of S.H.I.E.L.D from Baron Zemo’s perspective, offering the real world concerns about electronic monitoring and ‘Big Brother’ watching us all for our protection as the crux of his argument for seeding carnage around the globe. It’s another clever look into villainy which has shifted this away from being a book focussed predominantly on superhero teenage angst. At this finale though it could be said that perhaps things shifted too far away from its young protagonists, the story getting out of control, much like the situation for Hazmat, Anachronism, Cammi and Co. did as their time with the Masters of Evil progressed, and more of the page count had to be given over to dealing with Zemo’s grand plan. Ultimately it feels to me that things were nipped in the bud too soon, this climax leaving many of the cast as small, supporting players in their own book - though I’ll never complain about Cammi getting the wolf’s share of the panel count in that respect as she’s by far the most interesting character out of the lot. This hasn’t managed to reach the heights that Avengers Arena did and it feels as if Hopeless just needed one or two more issues to deal with all of the elements he’d put in play and have Avengers Undercover end as a far more rounded reading experience than we actually received. 6/10

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