18 Jan 2015

Mini Reviews 18/01/2015

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: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art: Tess Fowler
Image / Shadowline $3.50

Stewart R: It’s no secret that there’s been a bit of news surrounding Rat Queens in the very recent past which has led to regular series artist, Roc Upchurch stepping away and a new art team located - the mighty Stjepan Sejic takes over from the next regular issue! Due to the last minute replacement situation we therefore get this intermission in our scheduled programming with Wiebe taking an opportunity to look at a member of the recently introduced and expanded support cast in the shape of Orc Warrior and apparent heir to her father’s throne, Braga. What we essentially get is a one-shot history lesson in just how skilled a fighter and leader she is, how she differs from her kind and how that eventually led to deception, betrayal, great loss and her arriving in Palisade. Though not overly original, the plot is still surprisingly engaging and heartfelt for a character we weren’t overly familiar with. It importantly feels like a Rat Queens story where banter, sexual suggestion and great camaraderie overlap with the serious threat of death and fantasy political and familial wranglings. For her part, Tess Fowler delivers a consistent issue, simple in line, muddy in colour that adds to the sense of the past and ensures this, while not seeming to be necessarily essential, is a worthy addition to the Rat Queens canon. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Frank Quietly & Peter Doherty
Image $4.99

James R: The conundrum that is Mark Millar continues to confound. I've used this forum to discuss my problems with Millar numerous times before (the over-hyping, the shock tactics, the Hollywood distractions) and most recently, he burnt me slightly yet again with the damp squib finale to Starlight. But then you read Jupiter's Legacy, and you remember that yeah, that's why Millar continues to carry such clout. This climax to book one of Jupiter's Legacy sees the fugitive family of Hutch, Chloe and Jason finally being lured out of hiding by Barnabas Wolfe with explosive results. In principle, it's a standard superhero trope, but Millar really lets loose, and as he has done time and again in comics, really shows what a world featuring super-powered people would look like. The not-so-secret ingredient here though is the majestic work of Frank Quietly - it's no exaggeration to say that every single one of his pages is a work of art, or features a thrilling level of detail that grounds the book in something very close to reality. At the outset of the series I was very cynical about it but I've been won over with each passing issue. Among some extremely strong  comics this week, this was the one that gave me the most visceral thrill to read, and for Quietly alone, it takes my book of the week award! 9/10

Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski & Ron Riley
Image $3.50

Matt C: The opening arc of this thoroughly entertaining sci-fi Western comes to a close in thrilling fashion, with Faerber shaking something new out of something familiar, and giving his archetypal characters real depth and distinctiveness. That’s only one part of it though, the other being the visual side of things, and I continue to be blown away by the fluid mix of emotion and dynamism Godlewski is putting on the page here. The opening scene in particular is a winning set of sequential imagery, with action and tension playing out in dark, rainswept no man’s land. It’s felt very much like it’s been using the structure of a TV pilot episode as a frame of reference, but it would be a pilot episode where you’d be desperate to tune in for the next instalment. 8/10

Stewart R: A wrap up to the opening arc and Faerber and Godlewski have combined their respective talents to deliver a strong beginning that truly works because it doesn’t go for that spectacular, explosive moment, but instead opts for a lower key twist and firm, brilliant consistency in its writing and character work. By opting for this manner of conclusion, Faerber has made a concrete solid base from which to expand this world and filled it with personalities who are all hiding demons and histories behind stoic facades. We’re aware of these ‘skeletons in closets’ thanks to the occasional uneasy look, the shield of indifference dropping for a mere panel where Godlewski simply nails the shift in mood perfectly. Deputy Boo is growing on me with every page as he turns out to be a terrifically complex being, whilst Clara’s tough-nut demeanour continues to be eroded by the complexities of her new work environment. Having enjoyed Copperhead from the get-go, I’ve actually been amazed by just how Faerber has actually managed to play to my assumptions in where the plot may go, or how characters might react and brought genuinely refreshing surprise to this title on an issue-by-issue basis. We’ve a short delay now until issue #6, by my goodness, herds of wild alien natives couldn’t pull me away from the next chapter in March! 9/10

Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Tyler Boss & Santi Arcas
Image $3.50

Matt C: This book continues to dazzle, from its depth of characterization to its scope of world-building. There are moments in Lazarus – whether it’s something profound or intuitive in Rucka’s script, or some magnificent sequences of beautifully rendered panels from Lark and Arcas – that just take my breath away with their brilliance. Game Of Thrones keeps coming back as a reference, not necessarily because of the tone and content, but because of the sheer ambition of presenting warring families who shape the future of the world. Lazarus, to my mind, is the best comic book being published right now, and so long as the level of quality doesn’t dip – and I can’t see that happening any time soon – I see no reason why it will move from that position. 9/10

James R: When does the remarkable become the commonplace? After 14 issues of Lazarus, the quality continues to be so good, it's almost flawless, but that's how it's been since issue #1, and I now find myself in the position of expecting every issue to be a slam-dunk. That's absolutely unfair of course, but at the moment Rucka and Lark are showing no signs of slowing up or taking anything like a bad step on this incredible comic. Having saved her kidnapped brother Jonah, Forever is charged with executing the rogue member of the Carlyle clan. However, before she can carry out her orders, she learns something that stops her in her tracks. It's a payoff that's been coming for a while, but what's great here is that it's not the central focus of the issue - Rucka layers the plot so well, that Forever's revelation is one of three other strands that weave together seamlessly. Forever Carlyle was the fully justified winner of our Best Character Paradoscar for 2014, and in this issue it's clear to see why: everyone loves a badass, but Rucka writes her with such a terrific degree of empathy - I can't think of a character that I've rooted for so much in a long time. Whatever 2015 holds in store for Forever, I think it's safe to say that it will be nothing short of compelling. 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: John Cassaday & Laura Martin
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: Star Wars – the Original Trilogy in particular – is so ingrained into popular culture that any attempt to add to the mythos, especially in a different medium, always faces an uphill struggle. Harrison Ford, Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher… if it’s not these guys in the flesh, it can be really hard to engage in the story being told, which is probably why Star Wars comics have never been a regular feature on my pull-list. So kudos to Aaron, Cassaday and co for pulling off a debut issue that comes as close as anyone has in capturing the true spirit of the Force on the printed page. The art’s some of Cassaday’s best in a while and Aaron pretty much nails the freewheeling excitement of A New Hope, bolstered by the canny use of a familiar credits sequence. I dare not get too excited at this stage, in case my enthusiasm is clouding my judgement, but I’m highly optimistic that this is the comic Star Wars fans have been waiting a long time for. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Stefano Caselli & Frank Martin
Marvel $4.99

James R: Payoff time! After a total of 68(!) issues of Avengers and New Avengers (No, I really don't want to consider how much that's cost me, thanks all the same!) Hickman hits the detonator in more ways than one. This issue feels like 26 pages of finale, but it's safe to say there's much more to come. Recently, I've felt increasingly conflicted about this mega-run. The largest part of me wants to applaud Hickman.  He serves up a tale that's exactly what this ageing fanboy, (along with many others) wants to read: a complex plot that has consequences and resonates for months, fused with some wild SF ideas. That said, the sheer ambition of the project, and the way that monthly books work mean that there's moments where I find myself asking "What are they doing again? Where have they been? Why is Cap suddenly old? What day of the week is this? Aiiiieee!" and so on! Once again, the argument of trade waiting versus monthly argument could be trotted out here, but I'll leave it for another time - for now, and on its own merits, it's another strong issue of Avengers, and whoever Marvel choses to take up the reigns from Hickman when he decides he's had enough has got a tough job following this. 8/10

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