23 Nov 2014

Mini Reviews 23/11/2014

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.

THE MULTIVERSITY: PAX AMERICANA #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Frank Quitely & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $4.99

James R: Since reading this on Wednesday, I've twice considered contacting Matt C, our estimable EiC, and asking if I could do an extended review of this book as it's one of those comics which is absolutely sublime and brilliant on every level. However, I'm sure there are better writers out there doing that very thing as I type, so I'll just stick to being effusive with my praise. Pax Americana is incredible. It is the next chapter in Morrison's epic Multiversity, but you don't have to have read any of the prior issues to enjoy this. It takes place in the world of the Charlton heroes, whom many of you know were the inspiration for Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen (and given the animosity between Moore and Morrison, it gives the book a whole other edge!) The story focuses on the assassination of that world's US President, but as it unfolds, we're treated to an absolute tour de force in storytelling - it becomes clear as you read it that the story can actually be read in reverse. The book took my breath away with both its ambition and its beauty. Frank Quitely is a genius and he pulls out all the stops here. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see some of his work up close at the British Library's 'Comics Unmasked' exhibition, and I marvelled at the minute detail he brings to every image. A huge amount of respect has to go to Nathan Fairbairn for not only complementing this work, but augmenting it. We've given DC and Morrison a fair level of criticism down through the years, but this is truly comics as art on a whole other level. Magnificent and flawless. 10/10

SPIDER-WOMAN #1
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: While the sensible starting point to throw us a new Jessica Drew outing seems to be this big, cross-title ‘Spider-Verse’ event, I’m now feeling as if this perhaps might prove to be a slight misstep. Dennis Hopeless, jumping from the very enjoyable, tense and emotional Avengers Arena and Avengers Uncover, manages to bring the tension of the Inheritors’ chase to proceedings and puts much of the emotional weight of this initial story upon young Silk’s shoulders as she struggles to accept authority and deal with the consequences of her actions. I get that Hopeless may be trying to almost play this as a sensei/grasshopper setup with the experienced Drew seeing much of her younger self in the naive, brash actions of Silk, yet I can’t help but feel that as readers we’re drawn to Cindy’s situation more than perhaps we should be compared to Jessica with her stern, put-upon demeanour. I’m also gonna put some of that on the art of Land who once again doesn’t manage to convince me that he has a wide range when it comes to facial expression with all the signature pouts, duck-face pouts and open-mouthed pouts being present and accounted for amongst occasional coquettish grins and model poses. Due to the constraints of her costume and Land’s facial work, it’s hard to get a proper bead on Spider-Woman as her eyes are never visible while Silk’s wonder, excitement, anger and fear are at least depicted in her eyes. He handles the action pieces well enough, but that can’t salvage the problem enough to stop this opener sitting squarely in a mediocre-shaped hole. 5/10

NEW AVENGERS #26
Writer: Jonathan Hickan
Art: Kev Walker, Scott Hanna, Frank Martin & Dono Sanchez Almara
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A double helping of Avengers fun arrived this week with both Avengers #38 and New Avengers #26, both furthering the ‘Time Runs Out’ storyline in fine style. New Avengers pips its sister title to the post for me by focusing on the villainous elements in play, while also revealing exactly how Tony Stark has been taken off the table. Perhaps the most astonishing thing is how various plot threads that seemed to have been forgotten have weaved themselves back into the main narrative, proving once more that Jonathan Hickman is a master of the long game and, if things continue at this clip, this could very well be looked at as his superhero magnum opus (although that’s possibly dependent on how things shift into Secret Wars). In some respects Hickman’s playing to the crowd here, but if you’re a fan of these characters then seeing them treated with intelligence, respect and ingenuity is utterly irresistible. 8/10

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Olivier Coipel, Wade Von Grawbadger & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: ‘Spider-Verse’ part 2, or ‘With great numbers of Spider-People comes great confusion’ as it could be called, follows on from that terrific opener with something of a mixed bag. Slott clearly has a lot to set up for other writers on associated books including the new Spider-Woman volume and Scarlet Spiders, and while he does well to make those involved cast members’ sojourns to those new titles fit into the current run-and-gun, back-foot fight of the Spiders against the Inheritors, things do feel just a touch cluttered at moments. The big problem comes from a cast of characters that all look alike and all need to have a different voice, despite being a variation of the ‘regular’ characters we know. There are odd moments where it feels the top gun art team of Coipel, Von Grawbadger and Ponsor do their best to make sure the action is as readable as possible, but don’t quite capture that perfect angle or distance to properly depict the Spider-casualties thanks to tiny and subtle costume changes that differentiate these webbed heroes. I also found myself being resigned to losing many from this interesting cast to the Inheritors’ dinner-plate and when you sense the decimation coming it can stop you from rooting too hard for characters to make it through, doing the mental arithmetic and predicting the sure shots to survive. There’s also an issue with Peter ‘Chosen One’ Parker of 616 getting lost amongst the voices and seeming to be out of his depth a little in the chaos and that doesn’t feel quite right at this juncture. I have faith in Slott though and he has succeeded in making the Inheritors a terrible and scary threat, seemingly unstoppable and constantly looming into view like that dreaded truck from Steven Spielberg’s Duel, while his handling of the Superior Spider-Man reminds us of why that book did as well as it did! Minor bumps then but this is still looking like the event of the year. 7/10

ZERO #12
Writer: Ales Kot
Artists: Adam Gorham & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: A couple of weeks back, Zero topped 'The Blood List', a collection of the best (as yet) unproduced 'dark' genre TV scripts. For those of us who have been following the life of Edward Zero from the first issue, this shouldn't come as a surprise. Ales Kot's scripts have consistently been surprising and compelling in equal measure. He's used one man's life to its fullest potential, showing us Zero's origins, early years, disillusionment and mysterious future with a deft hand throughout. This issue is no different, and if he'll excuse me the comparison, it really reminded me of Warren Ellis at his best. It focuses on 2025, with Zero back in the Intelligence Agency fold and investigating a horrifying and mysterious fungal outbreak in a suburban home. It also made me think of something from Vertigo's early days, with a winning mix of darkness and horror, before building to cliffhanger that promises an explosive issue #13. I'm continuing to enjoy the scope and unpredictability of Zero, and it's great to see Kot continue to evolve as a talent. 8/10

MOON KNIGHT #9
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Greg Smallwood & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This is the issue where there’s a more definable shift away from the done-in-one approach that Warren Ellis took when he launched the book towards a type of longer-form storytelling that's more aligned to Brian Wood’s sensibilities. There’s a far more political bent to the series than previously seen – it was there beforehand (even when Ellis was in control) but it’s much more pronounced here, reminiscent of Wood’s work on the likes of The Massive or DMZ. This is not to say that aspect overwhelms the narrative as the writer’s clearly capable of performing thematic balancing acts, mixing the complexities of warzones across the globe with a much more intimate look at a psychological (and philosophical) battle between two individuals. Smallwood gives the visuals a sheen of realism while still creating dynamism through his inventive use of panel structure. Arguably, although brilliant, Ellis’ initial burst of six issues could be subjected to some minor tweaking to turn them into Batman stories. That’s not the case here, and by pushing us further into the psyche of the titular character, Wood is helping redefine Moon Knight as a complex and compelling hero. 8/10

ELEKTRA #8
Writer: W. Haden Blackman
Art: Mike Del Mundo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: To borrow and morph a line from Kent Brockman of The Simpsons fame “At the risk of being unpopular, this reviewer blames the demise of this title squarely on you, the reader!’” Seriously, when talking about the quality of illustration on a book alone, Mike Del Mundo’s consistently beautiful work on Elektra would make this a Top 3 book every single month. There are literally pages of pages of panels just in this issue alone that I look at and would happily have them as my PC wallpaper, cover pic on Facebook, heck I’d even have them framed on a wall in my apartment, dozens of them! The amazing thing is that the beauty of those individual panels are combined to form scintillating, incredibly enjoyable action storytelling as Blackman pushes Elektra onwards in her quest to find Bullseye and in turn find the leader of the Guild who set a price upon her head. This chapter is just one continuous and brilliant set-piece as Elektra initially goes toe-to-toe with S.H.I.E.L.D. in a non-lethal manner before the Hand turn up and make it one heck of a triple threat battle with far deadlier consequences. There’s a superb feeling of graceful kineticism from the paintwork of Del Mundo and getting back to my initial gag it’s such a terrible shame that this book hasn’t been capturing a bigger market as it’s really one of the best on the stands. 9/10

AVENGERS #38
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Stefano Caselli & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: We've often discussed Jonathan Hickman playing the 'long game' in his mainstream titles. He's a meticulous planner, who thinks way beyond a six-issue arc, and reading his Avengers titles has now become a mixed experience for me. For the most part, it's a positive one: thinking back to the early arcs, and the Starbrand stuff, it's been the strongest run on Avengers for years (and remembering Bendis' interminable run shows just how good Hickman's grand plan is) but yet, for all that, as a monthly comics reader, I'm now starting to want the pay-off. Seeing that Marvel has been pretty loud in signposting that this is all going reach as resolution in the 'new' Secret Wars, I can't help but feel that the Avengers books have a fair few 'tread water' issues. I know that it will all pay off eventually, but on a month-by-month basis, some chapters feel much flatter than others. I still love Hickman, and I love his ambition, and I admire Marvel for giving him the scope for telling such a huge scale, but this was 20 pages of build-up, when I'm definitely ready for a conclusion. 7/10

INHUMAN #8
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Pepe Larraz & Richard Isanove
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: So that’s twice in the space of a month that Charles Soule grabs a Book of the Week award from me for Inhuman! Following on from last issue’s explosive finale we have Detective Frank McGhee going about his forceful mission to keep a dying wish by locating the Inhuman King and his deceitful and unscrupulous brother, Maximus. What Soule does particularly well is give his characters great moments of definition and here it’s Frank - or ‘Nur’ as he’s now been dubbed by the Inhumans - showing the resolve and compassion to do the right thing in all aspects of his job as a lawman. While this is unfolding, Soule takes time to bring Dante back into the fold, give us an update on his heavily pregnant sister and even makes the smallest of points about those recently departed in this terribly turbulent and dangerous period for New Attilan. I particularly like the way that he continues to push Medusa and her close cohort into their ‘Old Attilan’ roles from time to time, almost separate from the people which they rule and protect and occasionally blind to the new status quo and precarious change - here highlighted by a subtle use of Eldrac that hits the spot thanks to Pepe Larraz’s fine, fine pencil work. Honestly, I know this is Ryan Stegman’s baby when it comes to the art, but damn, part of me is wishing that Mr Larraz had this or a sister-book as an ongoing concern as he and Isanove delivered some masterful artwork these past two issues that quite honestly could put some of Marvel’s top-tier books to shame! All this praise and I haven’t even gotten around to the grand crescendo of this mini-arc which was hands down my comic book moment of the week. The future is bright, the future is Inhuman! 9/10

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