4 Jan 2015

Mini Reviews 04/01/2015

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.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo, Jason Paz & Dono Almara
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: While the Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show is nowhere near the smash hit that many anticipated considering the dominance – both critically and commercially – of the company’s movie division, it’s still enough of a success that a comic book version was inevitable. Exactly what the market for this book is though, remains a mystery. It’s ‘inspired’ by the characters in the TV series, so we get a variation of Agent Coulson who’s a guy with extensive knowledge on all things superpowered, which puts him more squarely in the mix with the high profile characters, but without the offbeat charm of Clark Gregg’s winning interpretation of Coulson, while the impact the rest of the cast makes (outside of the cameo appearances) is negligible. That diminishes the appeal for existing fans of the show, possibly quite substantially, while non-fans are unlikely to find much to get them interested in a concept they were never much interested in the first place. It’s well made but feels perfunctory, and it does seem like creators of the calibre of Waid and Pacheco could be put to far better use elsewhere, rather than on a what is bound to be short-lived series. 5/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

James R: New year, but same old brilliance from East Of West. Over the last couple of years Jonathan Hickman has established a reputation as the master of the long game with his runs on Fantastic Four and Avengers. In East Of West however, he has shown another side to his writing, as (now at issue #16) he continues to move the plot forward at a terrific rate. Here, we're sped through the second year of the war of the republics as the Endless Nation begin to exert their superiority. Whilst reading this exquisite book, I was struck again by the popularity of a particular trope in culture at the moment. Game Of Thrones in literature and TV, Lazarus and East Of West in comics – they all deal with a particularly bleak world in which we're shown the machinations of the powerful few. I'm not sure whether this is a trend, or just that three things I love happen to share a basic story DNA, but I am sure that they're all of the highest quality. I don't think there's been a sub-par issue of this series, and whereas Hickman's scripts have always impressed me, the art team of Dragotta and Martin continue to simply amaze - just when I think they can't get any better, they raise the bar! Hickman is continuing to do great stuff with his tenure on the Avengers, but for me, this is him at his best, and consistently one of the finest monthly books in the world. 9/10

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

Stewart R: And so here we are, with the grand finale, the big reveal, the mighty climax and I have to say I’m a touch underwhelmed after my first read-through. In this concluding issue, Tynion brings all of the corners together to the focal point of the grand reveal, dealing with each of the various protagonists in turn as the end times truly appear to descend. There’s a certain amount of double-bluff as the curtain of mystery is pulled aside and the trickle of secrets revealed as he stutter-steps with the delivery, dragging the readers to the next tiny oasis of hope in an ever expanding desert of despair. I’ll admit that the central idea on the ‘singularity’ and the passing of information through evolutionary and sociological means is dealt with in an interesting manner, but as Memetic comes to a close I don’t really feel like any of the characters, even Aaron, got enough time to have me properly sympathise with, or get behind them. There’s a sense that a grand, planetary scale event is taking place, but Donovan’s art - which deals with the smaller, human interactions pretty well - doesn’t quite manage to sell the scope convincingly and that was needed really when the big punchline is a big, fat nod to the work of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. 5/10

Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Fran Bueno
Image $3.50

Matt C: Vampires are always going to be a staple of popular culture, the mix of horror, romance and immortality being endlessly ripe with storytelling potential. Having said that, there are times when the genre feels very overplayed. If you roll your eyes and think, not another vampire tale, you definitely won’t be alone, but if you’re able to see past that for a bit, you may find much to like in Graveyard Shift. Yeah, you’ve got some familiar bloodsucking wraiths making an appearance, but you’ve also got some very strong characterization and robust, energetic artwork in evidence. That’s not enough to reinvent the wheel but it looks like it could be enough to sustain this four-part miniseries. 7/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Various
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: There are moments in this issue, moments that reference Remender’s vastly superior work on Uncanny X-Force and Uncanny Avengers that almost, almost, make this journey feel like it’s been worthwhile, like there’s something positive to take away from the experience. Almost. It’s nothing more than inertia that’s got me through AXIS, that and the diminishing hope that there would something, somewhere, to single this out as a series that didn’t fall into incoherence with predicable swiftness. Even the usually stellar artwork of Jim Cheung is marred by a ‘too many cooks’ scenario, obviously the result of having to get this book out for a specified date. A major disappointment, and while it was largely codswallop itself, I’d recommend Original Sin over this any day of the week. 3/10

Writer: Eric Stephenson
Art: Simon Gane & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: Eric Stephenson is someone who is currently commanding a huge amount of respect around these parts. As the publisher of Image Comics, he's been responsible for dramatically changing our pull-lists, bringing out a slew of intelligent and vital books that have made releases by the Big Two look sluggish by comparison. He's no slouch in the writing department either, recently being one of the creative forces behind Nowhere Men, the 'scientists as rockstars' series. With They're Not Like Us (TNLU) music looms large again with a nod to the Manic Street Preachers - this opening chapter is entitled 'From Despair To Where', a single from the Manic's Gold Against The Soul album, and the back cover is dominated by a quote from their troubled guitarist and lyricist, Richie Edwards. It will be interesting to see how music will be used as a theme in this book, as for the most part TNLU feels more like the Image comics X-Men. We're introduced to the suicidal Syd, who after a failed attempt at taking her own life, is rescued by the Voice, a telepath who takes her to his luxurious home to be inducted into a team of young people with special abilities, and code names… sounds familiar, right? I was thinking much the same until the very final panel of the book, where Stephenson gives the plot a knife-sharp twist. It's certainly done enough to bring me back for a second issue. 7/10

Stewart R: A new Image #1, a new take on superpowers and the individuals who wield them… except this unfortunately doesn’t feel like anything new at all. The set-up is engrossing enough as a young girl finds herself on the roof of a city hospital, in the apparent process of deciding whether to jump or not, when a stranger approaches her and offers her a way out. Things take a twist, which is a thankful relief, and the mystery as to who these people truly are remains throughout, but by the time we’re getting the generic introduction page to a whole group of ‘specialty powers’ this is already coming across as X-Men meets Deadly Class. Syd’s situation is certainly an interesting one and her battle through her life with symptoms of schizophrenia and mental illness proving to possibly be something else is a concept with potential if it gets taken in a new direction, but I have suspicions at this early stage that it won’t be. Stephenson drops a potent cliffhanger ending which drips with temptation for the next chapter, however, considering the rather clich├ęd nature of the debut, I’d have been up for shelling out on #2 if this had been a $1 offering or web-released freebie as it really doesn’t seem to offer anything particularly fresh to set itself out from the crowd. 5/10

Matt C: It’s essentially an ‘indie’ version of the X-Men, with a bunch of superpowered teens brought together by a mysterious benefactor, although obviously there’s more to it than that, something that becomes more appparent as the story progresses. Superficially it’s effective enough but as a concept that can be arresting in its own right it doesn’t really grab hold, not for me at least. Even though it’s trying to twist a familiar formula, it’s still a little too familiar, veering close enough to its antecedent(s) that it wouldn’t require too much in the way of tweaks to sit comfortably inside a more mainstream franchise title. Potentially it will swiftly establish its own identity, one free of direct comparison, but I didn’t feel it was strong enough out the gate, and the Manic Street Preachers references seem about 20 years too late. 6/10

Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido & Muntsa Vicente
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: A brilliant confrontation between She-Hulk and Titania is depicted with great skill and imagination by Soule and Pulido which not only brings a smile to this reader’s face, but also gives further insight into just why Jen chooses to maintain her lawyer duties while possessing the physical powers of a Hulk. The enigma that is the ‘Blue File’ remains as mysterious as ever and even with some very surprising twists and reveals from the supporting cast there are delicious curiosities that persist through to next issue’s arc finale once the dust from this entertaining, county-spanning punch up clears. Mr Soule has stated in a recent blog post that he has been jotting down notes for a Volume 2 of She-Hulk and on the strength of 11 damn fine issues I’m hoping that he gets the chance to see those ideas solidified and illustrated! A smile-tacular Book of the Week. 9/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Garry Brown & Jordie Bellaire
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: You could argue that the real story of The Massive ended last issue and this is essentially an epilogue, but if you’ve invested in these characters all the way from the beginning, it’s the kind of conclusion that’s needed, one that reaffirms humanity’s ability to persevere in even the direst circumstances. Some may have found the way the realistic approach of the series progressed into something more fantastical a little off-putting, but it was done in such an organic manner, and in way that avoided any kind of specifics that could see unravel in terms of logic, that for me, at least, it worked. A thoughtful, hopeful series that was unpredictable in its narrative direction but predictable in its quality. 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Matteo Scalera & Michael Spicer
Image $3.99

James R: For me, Black Science is like the AC/DC of SF comics. With every issue, there's a definite feeling that this is Remender and Scalera going all-out, with the amps all up to 11. This isn't a book of quiet reflection, rather it's a battering ram of plot and ideas that leaves the reader breathless. With this issue, the various threads of the prior ten chapters begin to weave together - no, wait - smash together with aplomb: two of the alternate-dimension Grant Macdonalds arrive to stake a claim on their kids, whilst Kadir and the Shamen stand off against the millipede hordes. See, just that sentence alone should give some indication to the full-on, non-stop blitz this book is. With every issue of Black Science, I feel like someone gawping up at a tightrope walker in a high wind, thinking “They can't keep this up, surely!”, but I'm amazed that with every issue, they do. A special nod this time to colourist Michael Spicer, as it can't be easy following the great work of Dean White on, but he does a superb job filling in, and it felt like a smooth continuation rather than a jarring change. On the letters page, Remender comments that now the cast has been fleshed out "We can put the pedal down and rocket blast into the big high adventure" - if the first 11 issues of Black Science have been Remender holding back, I can't wait to see his vision of this book in high gear! 9/10


David Craig said...

Really disappointed with SHIELD #1 because I love the TV show a lot, but that book really isn't up to the same standard at all. Graveyard Shift on the other hand surprised me, and I ended up really enjoying it. Meanwhile I thought They're Not Like Us was solid, and I'll probably give #2 a go, although I'm not totally on board yet admittedly. Good reviews guys!

Matt Clark said...

Thanks David, appreciated!