11 Jan 2015

Mini Reviews 11/01/2015

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.

Writer: Joëlle Jones & Jamie S. Rich
Art: Joëlle Jones & Laura Allred
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: The secret double life trope is clearly not a new thing in comics as it forms the backbone of most superhero comics, so it’s arguably a recurring theme of the medium that will always sustain continued exploration in whatever form. Here we have the suburban housewife who secretly carries out assassinations during the 1960s. A pretty cool, if not original, premise, but one that I had a hard time engaging with as something just felt off in the delivery. There’s always a certain suspension of disbelief with these things but here I the didn’t seem to achieve believability – and thus, credibility – within its context. That aspect of the book didn’t work for me, but what did work was the rather splendid art from Jones. Bold, slick, stylish linework coupled with a nice mix of splashy colouring onto a drab background from Allred proved to be highly effective. So, even though I wasn’t convinced by the set up in this opening issue, I am convinced of Jones’ bright future. 6/10

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Top Cow Productions $3.99

Stewart R: Hawkins and Sejic return to the world that they built up and then tore down within the pages of Aphrodite IX and the territory feels quite a bit different this time around. Whereas Aphrodite IX started off with grand vistas of a turbulent planet immersed in a bitter race war, captured by Sejic’s then highly detailed painted style, IXth Generation kicks things into gear with a far more character-centric sequence that alludes towards monarchic, familial bickering captured in Sejic’s now streamlined and schedule-friendly art. As such this doesn’t look as grandiose as what has come before, yet there’s a sense that a far bigger game is playing out than when the Gen and Cyborgs warred against each other. Once the setup is quickly dispatched it feels as if we get to the story proper as Aphrodite and Hephaestus head to the moon, the pace steadies and the mysteries begin to reveal themselves. The cover pretty much spills the beans so no need for spoiler warning when I say that the appearance of the Witchblade, from a relative outsider’s viewpoint, having only skimmed the surface of Top Cow’s back catalogue before now, suggests things are to take a more supernatural turn as things progress. I’m a little cautious about bringing another Top Cow entity to this party as crossovers and mergings of properties can occasionally go awry or fit poorly as a whole, but if anyone can steer things to a cohesive and engrossing path it’s Hawkins. To that end he makes the two IX’s fight against a dark terror a thrilling affair which raises plenty of questions and hints of the danger to come. Yet another promising start from this creative partnership. 7/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Image $2.99

James R: Over the last few months, I've been surprised by the ambivalence towards this book. I can understand the doubt over Ellis finishing the series given past form, but that aside, this book has been consistently great, and with this issue, Ellis and Howard gives the audience the first pay-off of the series, and the first heartbreak. In China, the course of true love between Chenglei and Zhen is faced with the reality of politics and revolution as the authorities seek to purge the community in Shu. Meanwhile in Greece, Eligia has a final meeting with her mentor Luca. Both of these scenes are jaw-dropping for different reasons, and they show a perfect harmony between Ellis and Howard. It's Ellis' script that turns the knife (literally, in one case!) but it's Howard's terrific art that conveys both traumatic scenes beautifully - one of widespread destruction, one a more intimate kind, but they're both brilliantly effective. This series has been perfectly paced by Ellis, and as it builds to a climax, I fear the bard of Southend has some surprises in store. A first-rate book, and yet another example of why I love comics so much. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

Matt C: One of the many great things about Deadly Class is how it captures the extreme emotional mindset of the teenager, when every single decision seems monumentality important, as though it were a matter of life and death (which it rarely is). We grow up, we get some perspective, and to be able to capture that adolescent intensity so succinctly is no mean feat, but it’s something Remender has repeatedly shown he’s capable of capturing with apparent ease. Obviously there’s plenty more happening in this issue – some karmic retribution, an ambush going pear-shaped, some electrifying art – but without that ability to get to the core of the characters it simply wouldn’t have the same impact. Which is why, if you can recognize something of yourself (or your younger self!) in Marcus et al, then Deadly Class is an absolute must. 8/10

Stewart R: It never fails to amaze me how Rick Remender has taken a story about a school for teenage assassins - something of a seemingly far-fetched concept - and turned it into an enthralling and entertaining look at the instability of teenage life, the discovery of youth and the doubt of the growing individual. While essentially dissected into two separate halves, this issue deals with the (limited) ups and (prevalent) downs of Marcus’ journey through the 1980s as he stumbles through disasters of his personal and everyday life to begin with, before really opening the floodgates of an altogether different shitstorm. I truly loved the way that Remender and Craig lift the drug and alcohol haze of amnesia from Marcus’ addled and panicked brain during a slap-dash journey across town, and the constant hits of realization played against the physical hits of the hangover are captured in resonating and comedic fashion. From there it’s just glorious carnage with adolescent angst and plot-forming drama woven within the blood and explosions. I’m chomping at the bit to see where it all leads to. 9/10

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

James R: Recently, I read a comment that said The Fade Out feels like the culmination of Brubaker and Phillips' outstanding partnership. I can't help but agree with that statement - having admired their work since Sleeper (thanks to the recommendation of our own editor-in-chief, Matt C,) The Fade Out plays to their strengths - pulp, murder, femme fatales, broken men – which are all expressed perfectly in this book. This month we learn more of Charlie Parish's decidedly A-list WW2 years, while the dark forces behind the murder of Val Sommers begin to come into ominous focus. The masterful storytelling from these two is par for the course, but what struck me with this issue is how well Brubaker is weaving in historical figures into the narrative. It can be a tricky thing to do - sometimes it comes across as awkward, or a cameo can feel crowbarred in - but here Brubaker makes the appearances feel natural and there is a real sense of verisimilitude about the book. I'm thrilled that Ed and Sean haven't abandoned Criminal (I can't wait for the immanent oversized special) but The Fade Out is truly a special team at the top of their game, and if you have even the smallest passion for a murder mystery, you have to be reading this book. 8/10

Matt C: And so, even this far into their partnership, Brubaker and Phillips are still eminently capable of surprising and thrilling in ways that are just as fresh and exciting as when they started working together. On top of that, The Fade Out has more than one indicator to suggest that it may be their best collaboration yet, a kind of distillation of their favourite joint themes and ideas, something akin to James Ellroy’s alternate history of mid-20th century USA in its scope and tone. It’s a story about people wrestling with demons, trying to stay out of further trouble, but failing every step of the way.  It’s brilliant, essential, and not to be missed. 9/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads, Brent Schoonover & Felix Ruiz
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Having started brightly as a series focussed on Frank Castle and his relocated fight against crime and cartels in Los Angeles, there’s just the nagging feeling that things are getting a touch out of hand now and becoming too far removed from the titular character. The majority of this issue is once again leaned towards the actions of the Howling Commandos who are trying to bait Frank on and force him into the open. We’re not supposed to evidently warm to these military personnel - unlike the characters in Edmondson and Gerad’s Activity - and they spend much of their time masked and referring to each other by name every minute so we can keep track. That would be fine, but Frank’s mask robs us of any of the personality we identified in him previously and the resulting standoff seems to lack punch as a result. So all bad here then? Well as it turns out, no. In the background Edmondson appears to have Los Angeles tearing itself apart, innocent lives being lost or scarred in the process whilst Frank’s literally ‘black and white’ narration summarizes the cost of all battles. At the height of it all, when Frank’s fight appears done, Edmondson wheels our heads around to remind us of Officer Stone’s current situation and darkly suggests that things may have gotten horribly worse during Frank’s absence and indirectly because of his actions. I’m anticipating that Frank’s journey is only just beginning as a result and though patchy in places (the triple art team this time out being one of those ‘patchy moments’) The Punisher still manages to remain a compelling read. 7/10

Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas
Image/Skybound $2.99

James R: After a full-on, frantic first three issues, Birthright slows a little this month. Mikey, Brennan and Aaron head out to find the first of the escapees from Terrenos, a man named Ward. I'd call this a 'chess' issue, as Williamson maneuverers his characters into position for what will clearly be a wild issue next month. That's not to say it's filler though, as there are a couple of fine scenes here: Aaron speaking to a woman who believes Mikey is a war vet and seeing things through the eyes of 'Mean Mom' Wendy both gave the book a definite resonance. It looks handsome as usual, with Andrei Bressan and Adriano Lucas portraying both the fantasy world of Terranos and the mundane everyday world convincingly. For me, the first real test will be how long Williamson keeps up the pretence of Mikey's mission. They're wildly different books, but over on the masterful Southern Bastards, Jason Aaron confounded our expectations after four issues. I wonder if Williamson will do something similar here to keep it a cut above from regular fantasy-based series and to continue the momentum of that brilliant first issue. For now, it's still so far, so good. 7/10

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