28 Sept 2014

Mini Reviews 28/09/2014

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.

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Valerio Schiti, Frank Martin & David Curiel
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: “Doom is no man’s second choice.” That sealed it for me! As one of the most ubiquitous villains in the Marvel Universe, many writers have given voice to his arrogant, imposing presence across the years, and while generally most do a serviceable job, few really nail the character through his dialogue. John Byrne is one who springs immediately to mind, and I’d put Hickman in that select bunch too. We’ve not seen much of the monarch of Latveria in his run on Avengers and New Avengers but the writer proved he had a great handle on the character during his tenure on Fantastic Four. And now, it seems, he’s bringing back Victor Von Doom in a big way for his remaining issues on New Avengers as Namor begs for help having seen control of his cabal of world-destroyers slip from his grasp. This is following on from the final scene of the last issue, pushing us forward eight months, and as it focuses specifically on the fallout from what occurred, and has continued to occur, it’s much easier to quickly connect to than last week’s Avengers. Considering the number of major players involved, and the dire consequences that loom on the horizon, this is functioning as a far more engrossing ‘event’ than Original Sin, the stakes appearing that much higher. One might question why Thanos is following Namor’s lead, but I guess the thrill of the blood being spilt is enough to sate his renowned appetite. Either way, Hickman once again shows us that's he's arguably the best equipped writer currently working at Marvel for concocting storylines played out on a grand scale. 8/10

James R: Now we're talking! Doctor Doom - YES! For ‘80s-raised fanboys such as myself, the good Doctor will always hold a special place in our hearts. In Marvel's first ever (and arguably best) major crossover event, Secret Wars, Doom was the character who couldn't be bothered with the whole good guys-bad guys fisticuffs, and instead busied himself with figuring out how to fight (and steal the power of) the nigh-omnipotent Beyonder! You have to applaud his style! In New Avengers, Hickman makes him the central focus of the issue, showing Namor visiting the Latverian overlord to ask for help controlling his genocidal ‘Cabal’. Not only is it an unbelievably dark issue, as we're shown the Cabal gaining some sociopathic kicks from destroying a couple of alternate Earths (including the Squadron Supreme Earth) but it shows Hickman really knows how to write Doom. He gives him exactly the right mix of genius, malevolence, cunning and arrogance, and it just makes me wish for a Hickman-scripted Doom miniseries. I can dream, can't I?! Artistically, it was great to see Valerio Schiti back on the book following the decidedly dicey Kev Walker issues, and my only real complaint is for the second week running, Marvel have jacked up the price. I know that we get an extra 14 pages for the dollar, but for us Wednesday warriors, surely a multi-billion dollar company owned by Disney should make all their books this length at $3.99? Anyway, the bottom line is this was another tick in the 'Win' column for Hickman's Avengers epic. 8/10

LOW #3
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini
Image $3.50

Stewart R: When looking at the press and solicitation material in respect of Remender’s Image works Low and Black Science, you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps this writing maestro may have released two very similar science fiction titles a little too closely together. And there indeed are a handful of similarities in as much as they both involve broken family units and their respective plots both focus on scientific endeavours and the morality behind them. But where Black Science swoops along in the loving, frenetic embrace of the chase, Low is given the chance to breathe, contemplate and, importantly, build upon the rich characterization that Remender has been able to imbue his cast with by lingering once again on the battle between hope and fatalistic acceptance. As Stel fights with hope at her back to gain the ingredients necessary to locate the returned beacon that could save mankind, her son Marik looks for a permanent way to deal with the guilt he carries over past action and inaction. Yes, it may come across as a little ‘on the nose’ at occasional moments thanks to the clear lines of perspective that Remender is showing us, but the latter half of this issue, where Stel’s hope digs its claws into Marik whether he likes it or not, then highlights just how fluid the balance between optimism and pessimism can be within every person. Such a journey back and forth through the emotional spectrum is given the most beautiful of canvases to play out upon thanks to Greg Tocchini’s divine art work which provides a landscape teeming with exotic life forms and wondrous spectacle. Low by name, high by mark of quality. 9/10

C.O.W.L. #5
Writers: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel
Art: Rod Reis
Image $3.50

Matt C: The aftermath of a strike that turned violent marks the end of the first arc for this excellent unionized superhero series. Higgins reveals in the back pages that where we end up by the close of the issue is actually what he initially considered as the starting point for the story; the fact that he and co-writer Siegel have provided five chapters of solid, absorbing and essential groundwork to get us to that point has proven to be a very wise decision indeed. We’ve already invested in certain characters so the twists and shocks that come in this issue work their magic and leave us on tenterhooks for next stage of the overall narrative. It’s beautifully illustrated by Reis again, mixing a more realistic, earthy approach with sequences that have impressionistic elements to them. C.O.W.L. is skipping a month, returning in November, and October sees the release of the first collected edition (featuring issues #1-5). I would seriously recommend that anyone who likes they’re superheroes to operate in a corrupt and immoral environment to get hold of a copy. 8/10

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

James R: Earlier this month, we compiled our list of our current top 15 books. My votes for the Top 4 were very similar to our combined list, with one omission: my number one pick was Mind MGMT, as even amongst those other fine titles, it's the best mainstream book being published today. This month Matt Kindt delivers another masterclass in comic craft, and another enthralling chapter in the story of Meru Marlowe. I am always a huge fan of a creator that seeks to push the limits of the medium (for example, the incredible 'Choose Your Own Adventure' issue of The Unwritten, back when that title was in its pomp.) Here, Kindt does that, allowing the reader within the now-famous report margins of the book. This device is easily done in other mediums - in books, an author just needs another font to establish we're reading a 'book within a book', and in TV and film, the narrative flashback is easily done, but Kindt’s solution is masterful. On top of that, the flashback in question - and the focus of the issue - is a payoff from the 'Second Floor' backstory in issue #3! It's yet more evidence that Kindt has this epic tale worked out to the finest detail. I've always liked his style as an artist, but as the series has progressed, I really think he's got better and better, and now shows a sublime understanding of the process of making brilliant comics. It's easy to say that certain books are 'mind blowing' - for Mind MGMT, that's no hyperbole, it's a statement of fact! 10/10

Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Ryan Stegman & Marte Garcia
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The bizarre schedule that has plagued this title from release has nearly, so very nearly, saw me drop it from my pull-list once Joe Madureira delivered his final issue. While Soule’s opening salvo had been pretty punchy and managed to broaden the ranks of the Inhumans in polished style, it felt to me as if there were too many elements to focus on when the fall and rebuilding of Attilan was placed alongside newly introduced Nuhumans, returning faces from Black Bolts past, and the greater fallout and response in the wider Marvel Universe. Yet here I am with the sixth issue laying read on my desk and I sit excited about what may come in the next chapter. Through the course of just a couple of issues, Soule has sharpened the focus of the story dramatically, throwing up an antagonist to genuinely threaten the status quo of Medusa’s shaky kingdom and allowing these young new Inhumans to finally be placed front and centre. While it could be said that Dante, Jason and Naja don’t exude any unique characteristics that a hundred teenage Marvel heroes haven’t displayed before, it’s their combined experience as newly transformed Inhumans that has me coming back for more, their varying perspectives allowing odd moments of doubt and uncertainty to add extra colour to scenes of hot-headed (literally in Dante’s case) bravado and incredible courage. Month on month Ryan Stegman’s art style develops and solidifies, bringing him to the point now where he’s genuinely starting to look like one of Marvel’s premium grade pencillers and now a fine addition to this strengthening title. 8/10

Writer: Michael Moreci
Art: Vic Malhotra & Jordan Boyd
Image $3.50

James R: Another week, another SF tale from Image. After feeling underwhelmed by Copperhead, I had much more hope for Roche Limit. The opening pages hinted at some metaphysical mystery in the style of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, and the preview blurb had evoked Blade Runner. That's some fine pedigree, but sadly Roche Limit doesn't come anywhere close to these standards in its first chapter. Once again, the frontier of space is evoked to be 'The Wrong Side of the Tracks' on a planetary scale, and our narrative follows a girl searching for her lost sister with the only man willing to help her is a roguish drug dealer. Sweet Christmas, I almost fell asleep writing that sentence! It's so utterly generic, and lacking any innovation, that the final few pages - which should be the pages to draw you back in for the next chapter - just gave me a feeling of ambivalence. I'm aware that aesthetic taste is a highly personal thing, but I couldn't get enthused by Vic Malhotra's pages either - I always imagine 'the future' and 'an alien world' must be extremely exciting concepts for an artist, but what we get in Roche Limit are some incredibly beige backgrounds and interiors. This series may kick into high gear in a few issues, but I'm always looking to be impressed straight from the go (a quick look at our Top 15 list reminds me the top 4 all had belting first chapters) and sadly, Roche Limit didn't manage that. 4/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Jabier Fernandez, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Dan Brown & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Mangeto has always been one of the most fascinating characters in Marvel’s villainous pantheon, a man fuelled by righteousness but undone by his desire for revenge and his inability to conquer his anger. This all comes to the fore in this excellent issue as psychic torturing at the hands of the Red Skull’s henchman twists his memories of his past mistakes, emphasising his inability to make amends for his failures. It merges into the events portrayed in Uncanny Avengers #24 seamlessly and is a powerful addition not only to the build up towards AXIS but also this series as a whole, which has been one of the major surprises from Marvel over the last 12 months. It’s not always easy to make a villain the central focus of a mainstream superhero comic, but Bunn has certainly cracked it here. Normally I’m not too keen on book using two or more artists in the same issue, but having Walta do the contemporary scenes, leaving Fernandez to pick up the dreamscape sequences, works out really well. A brilliantly observed and unexpectedly thrilling series. 9/10

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