12 Oct 2014

Mini Reviews 12/10/2014

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.

BATGIRL #35
Writer: Cameron Stewart & Brendan Fletcher
Art: Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart & Maris Wicks
DC $2.99

James R: Now, this is a very pleasant surprise! A hectic weekend for me last week meant that I couldn't do any reviews, and I missed my opportunity to review Gotham Academy. I saw that as a misfire - an attempt to use the Batman mythos to tell a different kind of story. Whereas that felt like an uncomfortable fusion of pop culture ideas, Batgirl is a complete success in aiming for the same goal. As with Gotham Academy, I know that as a man in his - *gulp* - late 30s, I'm not the target market for this book, yet I had an absolute blast reading it. Firstly, Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher do a great job in making Barbara Gordon a terrifically well rounded character. We get to see her being every inch the gifted prodigy, yet we also see her being culpable and selfish. In one scene, Black Canary admonishes her as she rails over a loss of equipment: "You lost your gear? I lost my life." I stopped and tried to recall the last  time I read a superhero book that portrayed it's protagonist as so flawed (and Matt Fraction's Hawkeye felt like a fitting comparison). Then there's my perennial favourite - comics as a medium being stretched to tell a story. There's a beautiful double-page spread (reminding me of Mark Waid and Marcos Martin's early issues of Daredevil) where Barbara recalls the previous evening's party and 'walks through' the scene, asking for details on the guests from her flatmates who interject with pictures from social media. Nice! The art team does incredibly well setting an aesthetic for the book's new direction. I'm not the first person to draw comparisons with the Archie books, but there's a great deal of invention here that puts it way above that. As a final tasty sprinkle to the mix, Babs Tarr's pencils and Maris Wicks' colours add hints of the' 60s Batman TV show during the fight scene, and you know what? It really works! All told, it feels really good to wholeheartedly recommend a DC book again. They may have taken a few leaves from the Marvel playbook, but it's got a heart and soul which is unique. A fresh start, and also a triumphant one. 9/10

PUNKS: THE COMIC #1
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Kody Chamberlain
Image $3.99


Matt C: Unsurprisingly, considering the title, there’s a devilishly anarchic streak running through this comic, with a touch of surrealism to push things along. So you have four guys, one with a bulldog’s head, one with a skull for a head, one with a fist for a head and Abraham Lincoln. Yes, it’s not your regular common or garden comic book but it is frequently funny, due to both Fialkov’s knowing script and Chamberlain’s creative blend of photography and illustration. It reminded me of the ‘80s BBC show The Young Ones, which may be intentional, or may be something I’m just seeing as a possible kindred spirit. So I guess that’s your pull quote: it’s like a cut and paste Young Ones, and it’s great fun. 8/10


AVENGERS & X-MEN:AXIS #1
Writer: Rick Remnder
Art: Adam Kubert, Laura Martin & Matt Milla
Marvel $4.99


James R: I'm sure most of us have been in this situation - you're out shopping with a loved one, and they turn round to you and hold up an outfit, or something for the home and say with delight in your eyes "Well, what do you think?" Your initial response is 'KILL IT WITH FIRE!' But, y'know, you love this person! They've done so much for you! You don't want to upset them, but… yeah... you know. AXIS is my heartbreak moment with Rick Remender. I like Remender a lot - Uncanny X-Force? Sublime. Uncanny Avengers? Turned into an epic juggernaut. Image stuff? Brilliant! But this? Ugh, it's clunky. Red Skull, having used Charles Xavier's brain, has now unleashed the repressed Onslaught part of the mutant's mind and has become the Red Onslaught. Cue one huge punch-up. Again. I know we can argue that the battle may be why some people read superhero comics, but following on from his X-Force work and the Kang story arc in Uncanny Avengers, this just felt laboured and predictable, right down to the final page reveal. There were a couple of nice moments, as the long-running X-men feud seems to be put to an end, but I didn't think it had the emotional payoff that two years plus of storylines needed. I was also surprised by Adam Kubert's work - it's a bigger issue certainly, but at various points his usual flawless worked looked pretty rushed and unfinished. By the end of the issue, I realised that I simply didn't care, and at $4.99 a pop, I think I can live without AXIS. 5/10


DARK AGES #3
Writer: Dan Abnett
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
Dark Horse $3.99


Stewart R: Dark Ages just goes from strength to strength it seems with Abnett and Culbard putting in their best effort yet for this penultimate chapter. Abnett quickly pulls the curtain of mystery aside following the spooky revelation at the end of #2 and from there we’re led through an intriguing look at the ideas of faith, science, persecution and understanding with this strange medieval, science fiction-tinged horror backdrop as the setting. I really enjoyed how the mercenary ranks voice their fears and opinions as the pragmatic Lucifer converses with an unexpected individual and, thanks to their world weary attitude and recent experiences or terror, it’s definitely easier to believe that these characters would not be struck to instant reactionary behaviour at this new unknown, despite their trepidation. The action remains suitably gruesome under the hand of Culbard - one particular dispatching will live long in the memory - maintaining the tension amongst all of the exposition and ensuring that the impetus heading into the finale is kinetic and exciting. There’s definitely an enlightened comic in these here Dark Ages! 8/10


WYTCHES #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jock & Matt Hollingsworth
Image $2.99


James R: It's seemed a long wait for this - the brilliant Scott Snyder donning his horror hat once more, and reteaming with Jock, one of his first collaborators when DC wisely gave him a shot at Batman. The pitch is that the people who have always been persecuted for being witches are merely worshippers of the real wytches - malevolent forces that live deep within the woods. It certainly taps into a powerful and primal fear of humans. In the same way that Blair Witch Project managed back at the end of the 20th century, there is something distinctly disconcerting at being stood in a dark forest at night. As always, Jock does a fine job with the art - as a fan since his work on The Losers, I love that he's got an instantly recognisable and distinctive style that suits action, superhero stuff and now, horror. This book feels rich with promise, but my one reservation lies with the Rooks family, our focus in the narrative. If anything, there's a little too much telegraphed - Charlie Rooks feels too reminiscent of a Steven King character, and the relationship between the Rooks felt a touch Hollywood. That said, I have a lot of faith in in Scott Snyder and this first chapter certainly made me want to come back for more. Mission accomplished, and now I've got yet another reason to be suspicious of nature! 7/10

Matt C: Coming from the partnership of Snyder and Jock, big things are expected, and on the whole Wytches #1 delivered. Creepy, unnerving and bursting with a doom-laden atmosphere, this is Snyder amply proving he’s a dab hand at comic book horror and Jock showing he’s continuing to mature as an artist, the expression work here in particular nicely conveying the internal emotions of the characters. It’s was a good start, if not great, as it didn’t really have me at the edge of my seat for the final page – it felt like something grander was needed at this stage to really cement it into the consciousness. Having said that, these guys are too good together to ever discount so I’ll certainly be back for round two. 7/10


COPPERHEAD #2
Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski & Ron Riley
Image $3.50


Stewart R: The debut of Copperhead was 'Book of the Week' worthy material, and while this sophomore effort is not quite up to that standard it’s still oozing with high quality. The main characters introduced and several plot threads already in the mix, Faerber sticks closely to the investigation of the family’s murder and young Zeke’s wandering into danger in his new surrounds as the two main points of focus. This allows the mystery of the attack to pull on the curiosity of the reader whilst the peril Clara’s young son finds himself in in these alien wilds ensures that the excitement levels stay high. The breakdown from Faerber in the back states that Godlewski was allowed to tackle this issue ‘Marvel style’ from an artists standpoint; where he got to dictate visual pacing having been given the plot and dialogue as the loosest of templates from which to work his magic. And work it he does, expanding the frontier feel of Copperhead with small touches whilst showing a keen eye for panel variety combined with great visual consistency. Colourist Ron Riley plays his part too, the sand-hues of the Copperhead daytime replaced with black and purples of the planet’s night, lit up by the green, blue and red of artificial lighting. Yes, it could once again be argued that perhaps we’re not seeing anything particularly new or unique yet, but when hitting the beats of quality and consistency to this standard I find myself in no mind to complain about it and so I sit here in patient anticipation of the third chapter! 8/10


BIRTHRIGHT #1
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas
Image/Skybound $2.99


Matt C: I generally approach the fantasy genre with caution as it doesn’t always click with me but Joshua Williamson’s work on the likes of Nailbiter and Masks & Monsters has been strong enough for me to be willing to give anything he puts his name to a look. I was only vaguely familiar with the premise, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so in that respect you could say it sucker-punched me with a fairly hefty emotional wallop as it dealt with the emotional fallout caused by the loss of a child. There’s more to it than that of course, but thanks to the route Wiliamson takes to get us to the stage where the story really kicks into gear, the hooks are already in deep. As well as a great knack for characterization, the writer seems to have a good eye for artists that synch up to his style, and Andrei Bressan is no exception, moving from bleak human drama to more fantastical scenes without missing a beat. It takes something special in the fantasy genre for me to sit up and take note and Birthright #1 was very special indeed. 9/10

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hot on the heels of being burned so badly with Original Sin, I flipped through the pages of Axis #1, looked at the scratchy/sloppy art by Kubert, and said to myself - I'll wait to find it in the 50 cent bin in about six months.