17 Nov 2014

Mini Reviews 16/11/2014

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: Ivan Brandon
Art: Nic Klein
Image $3.50

James R: This week's comics were dominated by new releases for me. It's been one of those weeks where I gambled on three new #1s and I was amazed that all of them delivered in different ways. Drifter takes my book of the week nod though, as it not only confounded my expectations, it amply demonstrates how to reinvigorate a well-used formula. This year  I've been disappointed in both Copperhead and Roche Limit from Image - books I found to be lacking in originality and invention, respectively. Drifter, on the other hand, takes the 'Western in space' idea and makes it feel fresh again. We are introduced to Abraham Pollux, the survivor of a downed space ship, who wakes on a frontier planet. As Pollux recovers from his injuries, he meets the inhabitants of the as-yet nameless planet and town. Ivan Brandon introduces his cast with the right level of ambiguity - it's hard to tell who is truly friend or foe. This builds to a phenomenal final page and twist which suggests a delicious mystery that's set to unravel over the coming months. It all looks beautiful, with Nic Klein doing a phenomenal one-man job illustrating and colouring the book, and the world of Drifter feels fully realised and meticulously designed. As a comics fan, I know not to get too carried away with first issues, but this one is a cut above, and finally I've got a space-based SF book on my pull-list. Far out in every way. 9/10

Matt C: Sci-Fi Westerns have become a bit of a thing recently in comics, and I’d point to East Of West and Copperhead as being prime examples (although there have been several more of the last couple of years or so). It’s not exactly a new concept though as Western tropes have been applied to tales set in the farther reaches of space for a long time, and it’s a pretty obvious why they lend themselves to the genre, what with it being the final frontier and all. They also supply a perfect backdrop for explorations of the human condition whilst allowing for the inclusion of a healthy dose of action and adventure.  Drifter displays many of the required elements to make it successful, and although this debut issue didn’t quite push it over the edge for me, there’s enough to convince me to stick around. Brandon’s keeping the narrative slightly opaque at this stage, which is fine even if trying to get a bead on it all is a little frustrating. It’s not a major issue though and Klein seems to be taking his craft to a whole other level based on what I’ve seen of his work before.  This is seriously bold and evocative stuff. Not a clear winner out the gate but a very promising start all the same. 7/10

Stewart R: Intergalactic frontier towns/worlds seem to be the order of the day at Image of late and you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to titles using an alien, dust-ridden locale as its setting. Storm Dogs, Copperhead, East of West, even Black Science have all tapped into the Wild West genre and thrown the map a few hundred light years away from Earth. And now we have Drifter added to the list as Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein bring us the gritty exploits of the stranded, crash-surviving, starship pilot, Abram Pollux as he tries to piece together the events which led to his arrival on this backwater planet. From the get-go, Klein’s art is a delight for the readers’ retinas as he depicts a fiery descent, a strange first encounter, a second, more violent one unfolding slowly in realisation, despite the speed with which it actually takes place, and from there the mystery surrounding Pollux’s presence as he meets the locals and tries to make sense of his situation. Brandon's script is pretty tight, the surly, guarded nature of the majority of the cast coming across well, though certain lines of dialogue needed a second read through to make sure everything had been understood. The cliffhanger is nothing particularly new, but is a reliable attention grabber to ensure even the most doubtful of readers will likely think about coming back for a second bite, and to be honest I was hungry from more before even reaching that final page. A strong start. 8/10

Writer: Ollie Masters
Art: Ming Doyle & Jordie Bellaire
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: Even though Image have stolen Vertigo’s creator-owned thunder, only a fool would take their eyes off what the imprint puts out. The Kitchen sees newcomer Ollie Masters team up with the impressive art combo of Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire for a tale of mob wives making their mark in Hell’s Kitchen during the ‘70s following the incarceration of their other halves. It’s a clever angle to take, one that offers a different perspective to a wellworn genre, but unfortunately it doesn’t really veer away from various mob clich├ęs that will be overly familiar to fans of gangster fiction. Doyle gets the blend of suburban flash and urban grime down but while the whole package is perfectly fine, it’s not really one that makes you an offer you can’t refuse. 6/10

Stewart R: I think I understand what Masters and Doyle are trying to accomplish with The Kitchen, and no doubt events will transpire through further issues which take things on an ever darkening path for these three women, but I couldn’t help but feel that as an opening gambit this wasn’t as compelling as was intended. Masters ensures we get a glimpse of how Hell’s Kitchen was in the '70s under the ‘protection’ of ne'erdowells, syphoning the hard earned cash away from the various businesses and families with the threat of violence ever in the air. Masters takes a good while outlining just how prone to violence Kath, Raven and Angie’s husbands are, painting them with a villainous colours as he does so and interestingly having the reader ask questions about the wives who would remain married to such men. I wasn’t convinced by the lead up to the girls’ steps to enforce their husbands patch and collect owed funds, but once things get out of hand things definitely picked up a gear. Should things escalate from here this could be another great Vertigo crime book, but if the pace remains this pedestrian - it’s one of those books that feels as if it’s trying to emulate the televisual structure and blatantly get studios looking in its direction, which could be to the comics detriment over time - I can’t say that I’ll be sticking around to watch The Kitchen burn slowly. 6/10

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artists: Maurizio Rosenzweig & Moreno Dinisio
Dark Horse $3.50

James R: By rights, I shouldn't like this book . when I first read about the concept - a select group of people who can not only remember their past lives, but can become them - I immediately  thought of Lieberman and Rossmo's Cowboy Ninja Viking from 2009. That focused on multiple personality disorder rather than past lives, but I still thought “Meh, this has been done before…”. What stopped me in my dismissive tracks was the name of Fred Van Lente - I'm a huge fan of Van Lente, and I'm always willing to give anything he writes a shot. I'm totally pleased I did, as Resurrectionists was a blast. The writer tells two stories simultaneously - one concerns Jericho Way, a Resurrectionist undertaking a risky heist, the other focuses on Way's former life as Tao, an an Ancient Egyptian architect. One of Van Lente's talents lay in his pacing - he always fits a huge amount of plot and action into his pages without ever feeling rushed or undercooked. That's in evidence again here as the two plots move at pace and manage to keep the wild concept really grounded, and that's no mean feat. I was also impressed with Rosenzweig and Dinisio's art, handling the two time frames with consummate ease. By the time I got to the final page, I knew I wanted to know more about the world of the Resurrectionists, and where Van Lente is going to take this idea, and that will do for me as the mark of a good book. 8/10

Stewart R: Well, this debut issue turned out to be better than I expected, and that’s down to Fred Van Lente adding an interesting hook into this story looking at individuals who can remember their past lives. Jumping between a modern day museum heist and a tragic turn of deception in ancient Egypt, Van Lente introduces us to thief and apparent ‘Maker’ Jericho Way, wrapped up in work on the wrong side of the law, longing for the woman who was stolen by his current 'employer' and experiencing flashes of historic dreams which he suspects to be something more. The interesting thing here, which sets this apart from other uses of flashbacks and legacy memory, is the fact that Tao, architect of pyramids and Pharaoh tombs can see into the future via his dreams looking through Jericho’s eyes and memories. Tao’s is a tragic story illustrated with finesse by Rosenzweig while Dinisio maintains the separation between past and present, American cityscape and Egyptian sandstone with some deft colouring. There’s enough brought to the table here to suggest things could get crazy and pretty quick with it too and this is strong enough for me to come back next month to see just how crazy it gets. 8/10

Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Ariela Kristantina & Ben Wilsonham
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I’m a sucker for a good conspiracy theory, or at least a tale that gets decent mileage out of a probably ludicrous theory, so this X-Files-esque series of a clandestine agency covering up various failed government experiments seemed like it would be up my street. It rather rushes things in this debut issue though, and we don’t get a substantial feel of who the central character is before she’s dragged into a world of secrets. I like some of the ideas being played with (the notion that the moon had been visited several times before the very public landing in 1969 because televised space disaster wasn’t an option, for example) but ultimately this is something we’ve seen a number of times before and given a few tweaks this could have been a lost X-Files episode. Not bad but not fresh enough to stand out. 6/10

Writer: D. J. Kirkbride
Artist: Vassilis Gogtzilas
IDW $3.99

James R: Another unexpected surprise for me this week - following an intriguing premise in Previews, I decided to take a gamble on it, and whereas I wouldn't normally classify myself as a fan of 'Cosmic' books, Bigger Bang is so out there, and looks so different from any other book on the stands, that I couldn't help but be won over by it. We're told that Earth has been destroyed by a huge solar flare (sorry if that's put a downer on your day) but from that destruction, one new life form has been created - the space god named Cosmos. Infused with a typically selfless and heroic need to save lives and civilisation (and space whales!), he finds himself at odds with the Cthulu-esque King Thulu (Who lives in a castle spaceship. That's. A. Castle. Spaceship. Kirkbride is going all-out with the crazy here) The art from Vassilis Gogtzilas is exceptional in the proper sense of the word - his style is in some ways reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz (no bad thing) but it has a hyper, dream-like quality that fits the book perfectly. It's mad in the best way possible, and I can't help but want to come back for more. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.50

Matt C: The unintended theme of my reviews this week seems to be hackneyed storytelling ideas and how familiarity can breed not so much contempt but perhaps diversion bordering on indifference.  That doesn’t encompass every book that takes a run at well-trodden genre, because there are those cases where the ingredients come together in just the right way to transcend any reductive pigeon-holing. The Fade Out is one of those cases. I’ve watched a whole bunch of classic film noir, I’ve read a selection of ‘40s/’50s crime novels, and I can sense the familiarity of much the elements in this book almost instantaneously, but somehow the alchemy that results when Brubaker and Philips collaborate elevates the end result to another level. This is a thoroughly compulsive read, intense and dangerous, and clearly not content to be constrained by expectations. Crime comics have had a bit of a minor renaissance over the last decade and Brubaker and Phillips, particularly on the evidence of the first three issues of this book, just seem to keep readjusting the high-water mark. 8/10

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