19 Oct 2014

Mini Reviews 19/10/2014

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.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Tula Lotay
Image $2.99

James R: It's hands-down Warren Ellis' week for me - I had a tough time picking between this and Trees as my top pick, but in terms of sheer invention and novelty, Blue Rose was the best book I read in the past seven days. In many ways this is the exposition issue, as Ellis starts to explain the spectral and dream-like occurrences of the prior three issues. He plays with the whole notion of a rebooted universe (a uniquely comics event) and expands it magnificently. In the universe our narrative takes place in, the the reboot has malfunctioned; the new timeline features remnants from previous revisions. The question is simply 'Can the present be saved?' I've said before that my fear with Warren Ellis is that he simply runs out of narrative steam, but here he's pacing himself really well. As an absolute pretentious twit myself, I can't help but be won over by the layers of narration here - it's a SF story, but yet it's also a commentary on the need to restart and retell stories over and over. A special salute to the art of Tula Lotay; her work goes up yet another gear here, and her rendering of the possible apocalyptic future facing the current timeline was brilliantly done. An immensely classy book from first page to last, and it passed the James reread test: having finished it, I immediately wanted to go through it again. A perfect example of a writer and artist both at the top of their games creating something magical - I think this could be my vote for miniseries of the year. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Adam Kubert, Laura Martin & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: An improvement on the debut issue, but still nowhere near the level of quality you’d expect when you consider the excellence of the title this event has spun out of, Uncanny Avengers. I think part of the problem is that there’s just too much going on, too quickly (not surprising as most of the set up occurred elsewhere), causing an almost agoraphobic need to escape the mayhem. This isn’t helped by the usually excellent Kubert’s artwork, which feels cluttered, although not quite to the same extent as the preceding instalment. Nevertheless, it has its positives, especially it’s handling of Iron Man/Tony Stark, with Remender digging into the character, exposing the fears unusually hidden by the braggadocio.  Red Onslaught is a bit of a ridiculous creation though, but to be fair the Red Skull stealing Xavier’s brain was probably one step too far to begin with. The worry is that this will be the state of play for the next seven issues – one long punch-up – but I can’t help holding out hope that Remender has more inventive tricks up his sleeve. 6/10

Stewart R: It’s better than the debut, it really is, but there’s still something just slightly ‘off’ that keeps AXIS in the category that is ‘mediocre’. I’ll start with the strengths which here lie with Tony’s dealing with the aftermath of the Red Skull’s revelation and then the consistent involvement of Magneto who needs to be pushed to the forefront as the former victim of the Nazi’s hatred, victim of mutant hating humans, and of course his status as an on/off villain. Remender dives deep into the vanity of Tony Stark, capturing his inability to see and predict his own failings, and his painful realisations - delivered as a parallel running narration to the on page action and interactions - show that this writer can pick up characters he hasn’t scripted before and produce their ‘recognized voice’ almost straight away. The biggest problems however, sit with Red Onslaught and the general pacing. What the heck is the big Red’s plan here? I ask because he seems to stand around in his Genosha base with his adamantium Sentinels doing much of the heavy work for a good couple of days here, no real mention of the longer goal and next to no sign of the world threatening power he now possesses. I’m guessing he’s ‘protecting the ongoing work’ of his concentration camp, but thanks to the page-hogging focus on the constant hero attacks, the main motive is pretty much absent. I’ll add that I have absolutely NO idea what the heck Nova is doing here and an asterisked note on where to look to find out wouldn’t have gone amiss considering the part he then plays. Kubert’s art is thankfully a step up on the debut, but still remains far from his best work. Better, but it’s still got a quite way to go to be a good read. 5/10

Writer: Dan Abnett
Art: I.N.J. Culbard
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Strange happenings in the village of Wild’s End as Clive the dog, Gilbert the rabbit and Peter the mink set about investigating the mystery. That may sound incredibly twee but it’s anything but thanks to Abnett’s judicious use of familiar archetypes and his employment of some good old fashioned storytelling with a dark edge. Culburd matches this tone with the art, the anthropomorphic cast rendered in a manner that is more cartoonish than realistic, allowing that dark edge to seep through slowly rather crashing in without any subtlety. Full War Of The Worlds type mayhem hasn’t arrived just yet, but so far Wild’s End has been a compelling and bewitching surprise. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Howard
Image $2.99

James R: I've been saying to myself for the last couple of months 'I should really review Trees again soon - I really like it!' So, it's time for credit where due. This book has confounded my expectations since the first issue and, for me, this is SF done right. Over the last few months, Image have put out a couple of science-fiction books that haven't really captured my imagination: Roche Limit and Copperhead. With both of these books, I felt that the 'Big Idea' came before strong characterisation, and as a result, both the worlds portrayed in those books felt artificial to me. Trees on the other hand puts its cast front and centre, and while the presence of the eponymous alien life is certainly important to the narrative, Ellis gets us invested in the lives of those who live in their shadow. There's a definite sense of verisimilitude to this book - as a species, it would be naive to think that the arrival of aliens would stop us falling in love, being ambitious or executing revenge. As a consequence, it's a joy to read Ellis' global tale, perfectly realised by Jason Howard's art. It's a really unique read, and with each passing issue, the journey the writer is taking us on becomes a little clearer, but I'm still happily oblivious as to where and how this will all end. For now, I'm just happy to go along with the ride. If you're after a science fiction title with heart as well as brains, you should definitely be picking up Trees. 8/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Marco Checchetto & Andres Mossa
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’ve stuck with this from the beginning, and I have to say that as soon as Jonathan Hickman handed over scripting chores fully to Nick Spencer it vastly improved, and there have been some standout issues along the way. As this instalment sees various storylines brought to a close I guess it provides a good opportunity to step back and decide whether it’s a book worth continuing with. My gut feeling is, unfortunately, that it isn’t. Juggling three separate plots at once has lent it an overcrowded feeling, with momentum being lost when jumping from one plot to the next, and too often there were scripting decisions that required a little too much suspension of disbelief (a giant Shang-Chi battling a dragon with a country on its head!). The cover for the next issue (with Doctor Doom and Valeria Richards) looks interesting but I think in all honesty three Avengers books a month is plenty so I’ll be giving this a pass from now on. 5/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

James R: Alright, I'll come out and say it! I'm not 100%, wholeheartedly loving this book. This will cause shocked gasps, and cries of 'Blasphemy!' from some of my fellow PCGers, so hear me out on this one. I really enjoy Deadly Class, and as with Trees, I like that it's a book that's defying expectations -  when you think of a 'School of Assassins' book, what Remender and Craig give us is a world away from the standard tropes. I really enjoy Wes Craig's art too, and Lee Loughridge's colours masterfully convey both the mood of the narrative and the shifting timeframes. But somewhere - and I'm not sure where - I just don't feel as enthralled by the story of Marcus Lopez's life as an assassin as I do by the tale of the McKay family in Black Science. Perhaps it's the romance triangle plot (which I'm pretty nonplussed about in most art forms - I think 'Ah, just pick someone already!') So, there's nothing bad at all about Deadly Class, and I enjoy reading it, it's just…I don't love reading it. I'm not bailing out yet - I think Remender knows how to sucker punch and twist his audience - and I'm sure that there's a smart payoff ahead, but I don't think it's Remender's best work. 6/10

Stewart R: I was wondering when we were going to learn of Marcus’ former life in the orphanage where he earned his reputation and it has turned out to be this juncture that we become enlightened. Top marks go to the ever-reliable Wes Craig and colourist Loughridge for their depiction of the flashback retelling, Craig seeming to simplify his style slightly which puts across the idea that this is being told as a memory, hazy in parts, fully lucid in others, while Loughridge utilises single blocks of colour which add to the simplicity and complete the visual feat. Remender has been holding Marcus’ cards close to his chest for some time now and I’m glad that even in the reveal he’s managed to keep our protagonist edgy and dangerous on one hand and incredibly exposed, vulnerable and in need of help on the other. Perhaps it could be said that the characterization of the extended cast here is on the stereotyped and hackneyed side of things, but upon reflection it makes full sense when taken as a visual retelling of a young boy’s painful diarized history and journey into violent adolescence. 9/10

Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Gabo
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: I recall seeing works of fiction before imagining the afterlife being run as a business (don’t ask me to name them right now though – the memory’s not what it used to be!) but that shouldn’t discount any other creative team taking a shot at the concept since, as The Life After shows, there’s plenty of, er, life left in that concept. You could look at this as a tale that takes light-hearted pops at religion whilst focusing primarily on entertaining the reader, offering them outlandishly creative imagery to feast upon, and while that would be true to an extent, scratch the surface and there are plenty more pertinent jabs at many of the woefully outdated doctrines that organised religion holds onto.  Strip all the religious trappings away and it’s the human drama that makes this title work though, the age old drive to find meaning to existence.  At one point I was concerned that The Life After wouldn’t be able to match up to its impressive debut, but now it’s become abundantly clear that I needn’t have worried. 8/10

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Art: Butch Guice & Diego Rodriguez
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: The apparent oasis of safety and prosperity in a sea of death and turbulence is a plot idea often used before, the inevitable hitch lurking under the surface and the village that Wynn and Scully have found themselves in is certainly no different from the outset. However, Chuck Dixon does just enough to focus on how this evident green paradise could exist in this frozen world and the plans that its people have for the unique opportunity that their visitors have brought them to keep things interesting. The reveal, when it comes, ties things back to the very first issue which is a nice touch as I’d actually forgotten about that scene - it’s been easy to get so absorbed in the ‘now’ in this book, which is actually the ‘then’ apparently! I will add though that Wynn’s friendship with villager Stephan comes out of nowhere at double quick time and adds one small note of disjoint (or assumption on our part to fill in the blanks) in what is an otherwise fine issue. Guice deals with the slower pace of village life and Scully’s doubts with steady aplomb and gets to flex that visual-action itch once more with a newly introduced character who should make for further fun next time out! Winterworld is proving to be a universally good read for all seasons! 8/10

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