21 Dec 2014

Mini Reviews 21/12/2014

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.

SQUARRIORS #1
Writer: Ash Maczko
Art: Ashley Witter
Devil’s Due $4.99

Stewart R: The dark and bloody tone of the cover to Squarriors really does capture the mood within the pages as this is one gloomy, yet undeniably engrossing read. Maczko briefly provides a flash of mankind’s final days, hinting at a great disaster and showing the kind of brutality that might be found during such turbulent times. That past echo then passes on its violent theme to a scene set a decade later as a mouse scout comes under attack from a host of spear-wielding enemies and Witter delivers a striking and grim execution page that will linger in the mind for some time. From there we’re introduced to the clan who form the focus of this tale, learn of their current struggle to survive in an unforgiving landscape, and gain a little insight into the political balance of the surrounding clans and the strained and dangerous relations between them all. There are a lot of names flying around early on, but once you get to know who everyone is - Witter does a good enough job of making each character as distinctive as possible whilst sticking to a relatively photo-realistic approach to the animals themselves - it becomes easier to follow. This is a big read, as can be expected from the price tag, and at its end we’ve been given a lot including character introductions, bloody skirmishes, a constant sense of tension and imminent danger, and rather gorgeous artwork. It’s a strong start for this four-part series and further evidence that in spite of high profile failures, Kickstarter still remains a viable option for ambitious comic book creators. 8/10

AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #8
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz, Edgar Delgado & Jesus Aburtov
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: With the penultimate issue it becomes abundantly clear there’s no way this series is escaping from abject mediocrity. The brief glimpses of Remender’s abundant skill as a write (he was the Best Writer of the year in the Paradsocars 2014 after all!) get swamped by what seems like an uncontrollable need to throw as many characters into the mix as possible, often with only the slightest hint of logic, in what appears to be an attempt to befuddle the reader through endless Strurm und Drang. The art team handles the task presented to it well, but when that task is to render a relentless stream of fight sequences, it quickly loses its potency. I really thought there would be potential in this event series, but now I have to accept the fact that I was sadly mistaken. 3/10

DRIFTER #2
Writer: Ivan Brandon
Artist: Nic Klein
Image $3.50

James R: Following a confident and bewitching debut issue, the second chapter of Brandon and Klein's Drifter builds on the mystery and expands the world of Abram Pollux. I know that my reviews always tend to focus on writers and scripts, but in this case I want to give centre stage to Nic Klein. He excels himself with this issue, producing some beautiful pages, and giving a real sense of an alien world. As someone who can barely draw a stick figure, I'm always enthralled by the magic of art, and I felt Klein certainly captures something magical here. Ivan Brandon moves the story on at a fine pace, offering us further hints at the mystery that lies at the heart of this book, whilst showing that the world of Drifter is rich with possibility and potential. I love a good SF tale, and Drifter is definitely scratching that itch. 8/10

WAYWARD #5
Writer: Jim Zub
Art: Steve Cummings & Tamra Bonvillain
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Since Zub dropped Rori into her new Japanese home it’s been clear that her strange powers might be leading to a defining moment and it appears that this was it! Having barely survived one supernatural encounter last issue, Zub raises the stakes as Rori realises that her mother is in deep, dark trouble. The depiction of Rori speeding home is brilliantly effective as Bonvillain flips the surrounds into negative colouration when we’re seeing things from Rori’s perspective, whilst Cummings gets to play with the usual speedster dynamic in alternating panels showing the effects of Rori’s velocity. The speed helps to set the urgency of the situation and once we’re at the destination it’s when things take a turn for the sinister and Zub alludes to the grander mystical scheme. In the space of five issues he’s introduced us to a host of intriguing characters, depicted the mystical and strange battleground in a modern world and with this chapter delivered a dramatic twist that sets things up brilliantly for the instalments to come. 8/10

BATMAN #37
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Greg Capullo & Fco Plascencia
DC $3.99

James R: Amazingly, Batman is the only title from the New 52 that I've brought every single issue of. That's a huge compliment to the creative team on this book. Even though I wasn't a huge fan of the 'Year Zero' idea, Batman has been consistently great, and the best 'blockbuster' series on my pull-list. With 'Endgame', we can see Snyder and Capullo playing to their strengths - Snyder has an instinctive grasp on what works for Batman, and Capullo gives everything a big-budget feel. The two of them deliver a terrific payoff here that I won't spoil, but suffice to say, the Joker continues to raise the stakes, and one once again it begs the question: why would anyone choose to live in Gotham?! Joking aside, Batman remains DC's most reliable book, and it's just a shame that some of the other titles in the DC stable haven't been able to match this level of quality and consistency. 8/10

MANIFEST DESTINY #12
Writer: Chris Dingess
Art: Matthew Roberts & Owen Gieni
Image/Skybound $2.99

Matt C: A year later and this remains an exciting blend of action and adventure, with history being pulled through the imaginative realms of fantasy to thrilling effect. While some characters remain on the periphery and may not always be instantly recognisable to the monthly reader, Dingess has delved deeper into the psyches of his core cast, revealing new aspects of their personalities and motivations with each passing issue. Roberts brings all this to vibrant life, whether it’s by capturing the emotions (or lack thereof) of various individuals or the weird and wonderful flora and fauna the crew encounter. I’m still trying to perfect a pull-quote for this series, and this month I’m going with describing it as a Doug McClure movie directed by Edward Zwick. Or something. Either way, this is a series to treasure. 8/10

ZERO #13
Writer: Ales Kot
Artists: Alberto Ponticelli & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: The key word here is economy. In the latest issue of Zero, Ales Kot gives us roughly 100 words of dialogue, but a massive amount of violence. As Edward Zero and Sara Cooke defend the agency from an assault from an unidentified team, Kot lets Alberto Ponticelli bring the plot to life, giving us moments of silent reflection and shocking brutality. With Zero, I've been frequently reminded of Warren Ellis at his best - a series of sharp, single issues, but with a overarching plot that's built slowly but surely towards a powerful conclusion. The final page of this issue suggests that the narrative threads that Kot has laced throughout the run of Zero are now being tied together. It's been a slow burn, but Zero is building to a dazzling finale. 8/10

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