27 Oct 2014

Mini Reviews 26/10/2014

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.

MEMETIC #1
Writer: James Tynion IV
Art: Eryk Donovan & Adam Guzowski
BOOM! Studios $4.99

Matt C: This series possesses a really strong idea, effectively capturing the zeitgeist of a culture that has become increasingly obsessed with single images that go viral on a global scale within minutes. So we have the concept of a weaponized meme that is at first addictive, spreading like wildfire, before it suddenly turns deadly.  Tynion paces this opening instalment with an effective believability, as the world quickly becomes enraptured by a seemingly innocuous picture of a sloth. What I’m not convinced about at this stage is the colour-blind protagonist’s ability to carry the adventure to its conclusion – he’s just not that engaging or interesting, coming across as a little too generic to act as anything more than a bland audience surrogate. That may change as things go along and fortunately the premise is in itself is compelling enough for me to want to see this one out. 7/10

Stewart R: In these days of the Ebola virus, #Gamergate and the constant consideration that ‘big brother is watching us’ and all our social media ways, it was only a matter of time before the spread of information throughout humankind in this 21st Century world was looked at under the microscope of comic book fiction. Tynion essentially takes the zombie virus model of survival horror and applies it to something that has the potential to spread faster and do more damage than any biological entity. To that extent Memetic does utilise the tropes of popular zombie fiction quite blatantly - even aping 28 Days Later’s ‘anger’ element for added effect - but within the odd puddles of clichĂ© appears to sit a story looking at the balance between peace and hate, humankind’s journey through evolution with the effect that technology is having, and just how varied the survivors of epidemics and species disaster could be thanks to physical traits and elements of luck. In this oversized issue, Tynion manages to give us a protagonist (or two) to follow the event from their unique perspectives, while also providing the picture of the wider downfall through broadcasts, news reports and the odd flash of social media, ably depicted by series artist, Eryk Donovan. There’s a clear and evident arc to be seen here as the image is released, the various players are introduced and then the chaos unfolds out of apparent and eerie harmony, and to be honest with possibly just a half dozen or so pages more this could have been a decent ‘what happened next’ open-ended one-shot. The fact we have two more issues to come leaves me wondering just where Tynion will take it from here and just what he will fill those two further oversized chapters with. 7/10

MULTIVERSITY: THE JUST #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Ben Oliver & Dan Brown
DC $4.99

James R: Now this is more like it. So far Grant Morrison's Multiversity has been - surprise, surprise – a hit-and-miss affair. After an extremely typical opening chapter, followed by a nice but very familiar second issue, Multiversity leaps to Earth 16, and it's easily the strongest chapter yet. Morrison starts to elaborate on the threat facing the heroes of the multiverse, that the comics we are reading are bridges between the worlds which allow the Gentry to move from place to place infecting each Earth. More interesting though is the shape of Earth 16 itself: a world populated by the children and grandchildren of DC's heroes. Having their parents save the world so efficiently, it has left these characters as redundant heroes, with no enemies to fight, or challenges to meet. It's great to see Morrison write Damien Wayne again (here having taken up the mantle of the Bat) and I enjoyed the cast being more invested in celebrity than altruistic acts. It's arguable that 'Celebrity Culture' is a bit of an easy target, but Grant Morrison keeps the issue well focused, and it looks lush, courtesy of the fine art from Ben Oliver. I'm not flipping out over Multiversity just yet, but this issue has finally made me intrigued to read the next, and that's always a positive sign.  7/10

AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #3
Writer: Rick Remender
Art:  Lenil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Matt Milla, Laura Martin & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: I’m not really sure what’s gone wrong here. For a start, it seems to be lacking the kind of definable high concept that a big event book requires. What was the pitch here? “Red Skull turns into Red Onslaught, there’s a smackdown between him, the Avengers, the X-Men and some villains before he’s defeated, then the Avengers and the X-Men fall out (again), and we’re only a third of the way through the story! Yay!”  It’s almost as though this is morphing into a sequel to Avengers Vs X-Men, which probably makes good business sense, but maybe not when it’s delivered in this haphazard manner. Unlike Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity which, despite some flaws, built nicely on the ideas he was working on in Avengers and New Avengers, AXIS sees Remender apparently lose his grip on the tale he’s been telling in the pages of Uncanny Avengers. I understand the necessity for broad strokes in this kind of book when so many characters are in play, but they’re a little too broad here, and we essentially get to watch relationships allowed to blossom beforehand get given short shrift here. It’s disappointing and not a little perplexing from a writer who’s shown he’s brilliantly adept at crafting epic superhero sagas. Yu’s art is fine, but as with the previous Kubert-illustrated instalments, it feels too crowded and frenetic. It’s looking like a bit of car crash now and – surprise, surprise – I can’t seem to take my eyes off it. 4/10

Stewart R: It seems I can’t refrain from the Avengers & X-Men: AXIS reviews at present and I was keen to see if a change in artist might help improve my opinion of Marvel’s current big thing. While Leinel Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and the colourist contingent do raise the bar of quality once more from an aesthetic perspective - after Kubert managed to up his game last time out following a sub-par debut - there’s still a feeling that everything is being crammed in. Considering the fine work of scale variation that Yu brought to the pages of Mark Millar’s Superior, heck, even Marvel’s own Secret Invasion, this feels very constrained from panel to panel. There are big moments here, but they’re delivered in the corners of pages or amongst a handful of cluttered panels that rob this comic once again of its ‘event’ majesty. Whether that could be attributed to Remender’s story and scripting is certainly something to consider, especially since, just a quarter of the way through this series, it seems that an idea that could have been stretched and expanded across a six issue event and been that alone, has been wrapped up in (or squashed into) three chapters and is seemingly leading us elsewhere. Breaking the Avengers and X-Men union could have been done sooner, but would have flown in the face of all that successful Uncanny Avengers work. This apparent longer game plan however, has still managed to feel a touch forced through much of it. Admittedly, Remender is a writer who can weave large, intricate narratives with disturbing levels of excellence time and time again, and if this was just the setup - as could be the case - then I’m definitely coming back to see what the main thrust of his idea actually is. 6/10

STARLIGHT #6
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Goran Parlov & Ive Svorcina
Image $4.99

James R: So, after all that promise, Starlight ends with a whimper rather than a bang. As this series has progressed, there's been an underlying darkness to Mark Millar's Flash Gordon reimagining, and as I read this issue, I waited for a twist, an unexpected moment, or a surprise. Sadly, there just wasn't one. Millar wraps things up in true Saturday morning serial style, with the forces of evil vanquished, and Duke McQueen triumphant. I realise there's nothing wrong with this - it's in absolute keeping with the tone of the source material, but after such a powerful opening chapter, and some terrifically unexpected turns, I was just hoping for more. Goran Parlov turns in another exquisite issue, and demonstrates that he was absolutely the right man for this miniseries. All told then, Starlight was fun, but ultimately pretty standard fare. Once again, I can't help but think that Mark Millar is now a Hollywood guy who used to write comics rather than a man with a deep passion for the medium. 6/10

Matt C: After a surprisingly moving opening chapter I had expected that by the end of this double-sized final issue we’d see something a little more unpredictable in this tale of an aging Buck Roger/John Carter type character. What’s now the most surprising thing about Starlight is how little it deviated from a well-trodden path, providing a narrative that has very strong echoes of a number of prominent sci-fi works and not making much of an attempt to subvert expectations. Which is kind of strange move from Millar. It’s by no means a bad ending, and it certainly looks great thanks to Parlov, but in all honesty it’s all far too easily resolved and it left me with an “Is that it?” reaction upon hitting the final page.  It had hints early on that Starlight could rank alongside Millar’s very best but instead it turned into something that was pleasant but predictable, one that could quite possibly prove to be forgettable. 6/10

LETTER 44 #11
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque & Dan Jackson
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: “You’re fucked.” “We’re fucked.” Variations on these colourful expressions can be found littered throughout this issue and they do offer an apt description of where the characters currently find themselves both upon the Earth and far above it. Soule continues to inject a real sense of plausibility into the proceedings, even in the areas that could be more accurately defined as ‘science fiction’, and the way things have escalated over the course of the series so far have been handled with intelligence and perceptiveness. Alburquerque’s art style can sometimes feel exaggerated, offsetting the realism slightly, but this does create its own intensity, reflecting the heightened emotions of the various situations unfolding. All in all, Letter 44 has become a brilliant tale of distrust, insecurity, desperation and maybe a little bit of hope. 8/10

SHE-HULK #9
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido & Muntsa Vicente
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Ahhh the good ol’ courtroom drama! I do enjoy a good matching of minds across the battlefield that is the book of law, and who better to be scripting such stories with a superhero touch to them than practising attorney and comic book writer, Charles Soule?! He’s done some terrific work here, folding the actual technicalities and details of trying a case in with a large, dark mystery about Steve Rogers’ past with the hero’s current day motives throwing things for an extra spin. The idea of Jen and Matt Murdock facing off against each other in their day jobs would be tantalizing as it is, but add in Steve Rogers’ innocence as the real element on trial and it just elevates things to compulsive, page-turning levels. The associated downtime, planning and preparation scenes are kookie as we’ve come to expect, with Jen’s colleagues (and monkey assistants) allowing for some needed levity amongst the edutainment - a whole comic focusing on legal procedure might be a stretch too far for some! Pulido maintains his consistent clean, distinctive style and with Daredevil involved there’s work here by the artist’s hand and that of colourist Vicente that had me thinking they’d make for a good fill in team on Mark Waid’s DD title should they ever be needed. All in all, She-Hulk #9 is perfect proof of just why Marvel were so keen to have Soule on his recently signed exclusive contract! 9/10

LAZARUS #12
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Michael Lark & Santi Arcas
Image $3.50

James R: Now I'm starting to run out of superlatives to describe Lazarus. After 12 issues, this book is still to put a foot wrong, and it's up there with Mind MGMT and Black Science as the comics I just cannot wait to read when they surface on my pull-list. It's another chapter of masterful storytelling this month from Greg Rucka as he continues to world-build in a masterful way, adding yet more characters to his story, whilst still keeping up the intrigue and political machinations of the super-wealthy who now control the globe. I've been a fan of Rucka's for years, but this for me is a step-up in quality - we've said it before here, but it bears repeating:  it's like an HBO drama in graphic form. The extra goodness I should highlight this month is the excellent letters page - it's truly an education to read the motivations and inspirations behind this series. This has to be one of the front-runners in our Paradoscars 'Book of the Year' category, and once again, I cannot wait to see where it goes next. 8/10

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