1 Feb 2015

Mini Reviews 01/02/2015

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: Jonthan Hickman
Art: Ryan Bodenheim & Michael Garland
Image $4.50

Matt C: Jonathan Hickman doesn’t piss about! Yet another exquisite exercise in world-building unfurls in The Dying And The Dead as we’re drawn into a mysterious, unseen world that exists within the shadows of our own, with an old man pulled back into the fray by the promise of life for his dying wife. So essentially this is employing the ‘one last job’ trope but not in a traditional or predictable manner. Hickman uses a lot of similar themes in his work, particularly the idea of secret societies and hidden worlds, but the trick is to differentiate each tale in a way where he doesn’t feel like he’s repeating himself, and thus far he’s pulling that trick off. It always helps to have a strong artist on board, and in Ryan Bodenheim, who also worked with him on Red Mass For Mars and Secret, he has the perfect collaborator, someone whose robust, detailed style can convey emotion, wonder and violence with equal force. From his recent output, this is more in the vein of East Of West, and it could quite easily grow to match that book’s stature from here. 9/10

James R: Ooof. Talk about heavyweight! Clearly, dictating the fate of the Marvel Universe and bringing out one of the finest books being published today (in the shape of East Of West) isn't enough for Jonathan Hickman: The Dying And The Dead represents another slice of greatness from the author. In many ways, it's like a Hickman ‘Greatest Hits’ package - there are elements of SHIELD, East Of West, and Manhattan Projects here as we're introduced to two seemingly immortal forces who control the world of 1969. Colonel James Canning has been hired by the mysterious Bishop to track down and destroy Bah al'Sharur, an equally mysterious force, currently holed up in Hitler's mountain retreat of Berchtesgaden. For $4.50, Hickman and Bodheim give us a gargantuan first issue, which succeeds in setting up an epic canvas for the story - the plot leaps across the world with the assuredness of a Bond film, and features a lot of Hickman's magic touches: an underground city, a reflection on religion and faith, sprawling vistas... they’re are all here. It’s illustrated with a deft hand by Ryan Bodenheim, and Michael Garland's colours give the book an immediate and distinctive feel. One issue in, and I'm definitely hooked - I get the feeling that (as always) Hickman has the grandest of plans for this title. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuna
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Relaunch time! And a new Uncanny Avengers team lineup to go with it! And we had to wade through the murky, underwhelming mire that was AXIS to get here too! However… Remender is definitely a writer who produces his highest calibre work when settling into his own, individual groove that doesn’t rely on the outside influence of other titles and writers, and from the get-go of this latest renumbering it’s clear that he’s back into the comfortable waters and producing compulsive writing that sucks you in. The key ingredients here are instability and peril. AXIS burned a lot of characters in various ways and the levels of mistrust are running high as Rogue and Captain America try to rebuild the team and track down Pietro and Wanda. Remender instils a great sense of bitterness in his version of the Vision, imbues Sam with a sense of weariness that comes with the weight of that shield and revisits Rogue’s doubts regarding her powers and the cost that can come with her using of them. When the peril turns up it does so en masse and is tailored to each member of the team to suggest once again that Remender is back to his best and has another tantalizing long game in store for us. 9/10

Matt C: After the (fairly large) blip that was Avengers & X-Men: AXIS, I was hoping that normal service would be resumed swiftly with this relaunch of Uncanny Avengers. It’s certainly a more solid offering than any issue of AXIS but not quite solid enough to convince me this will be a keeper. Acuna’s art is stellar – in fact, I can’t think of any artist better suited to this book – but Remender seems to struggle a bit with certain members of the new team to give them a clear, unique voice. I like the setting though, and I do recall the first volume of this series took a few issues to get into gear (and then become on Marvel’s most essential titles) so I’m not writing this off yet. 6/10

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

Stewart R: I really wasn’t convinced by the debut and having picked up this second issue of They’re Not Like Us on something of a gamble I’m disappointed to say that I’ve not been convinced to stick around for further instalments. Stephenson expands on the group of skilled and powered people who have taken Syd under their wing and educated her about her gift, showing us the violent lengths that they will go to in order to protect themselves and remain hidden from the eyes of the world. Admittedly Stephenson’s scripting and pacing works well to show us one perspective and then flips things around to shoo away any assumptions that we had about their despicable actions being aimless, but it fails to get me interested in any of these characters at this stage. Protagonist Syd is still just a passenger at this point, travelling her path of enlightenment through the group’s revelations about who they are and what they offer, and while we’ll probably get into who she is and where she’s come from as things progress this title just hasn’t managed to land a hook in my interest following a slowburn start. 5/10

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artists: Valentine De Landro
Image $3.50

James R: In its first issue, Bitch Planet impressed with its smart riff on the 'women in prison' trope, and the second issue kicks it up another notch as Kelly Sue DeConnick adds in a Rollerball vibe - we begin to learn more about the future society of Bitch Planet and it's one dominated by the (as yet unseen) sport of Megaton. In order to stop a growing public apathy toward the sport, Kamau Kogo is approached by the authorities to form a Megaton team made up of female convicts. DeConnick does a great job setting up a potentially explosive storyline here, and she also starts to flesh out the cast to great effect. It's that greatest of things in comics - a blast to read. Bitch Planet entertains with every page, and I think it's got the potential to go stratospheric. 8/10

Stewart R: I regard Image as the publisher to go to for world building and Kelly Sue DeConnick is throwing this comic book reality up there in some style! Here she continues to establish the status quo in a heavily patriarchal and political society, steered and dictated by fear, status and compliance and ruled by the ‘fathers’. There’s a neat opening scene which displays the hierarchical structure to things as well as making a comment about social media, engagement, and the capturing of the minds of the people in parallel to the real 21st century world we live in today. When she returns to tough cookie and inmate of the titular Bitch Planet, Kamau Kogo, she sets wheels in motion to bring those previously mentioned elements of media and the administration into the direct path of Kogo. The conversation with Miss Whitney is a cool affair as the two of them swap viewpoints and perspectives of the world in which they live as they try to size each other up and a proposition is delivered. The next sequence from artist De Landro is just terrific as an enforced exercise regime allows Kogo’s associates to offer their services to the task not yet taken or accepted by Kogo, all the while a brilliant riot builds, panel by panel in the background. It’s incredibly strong work from all involved, has that feel of a gritty TV serial and, it seems, is simply teasing us at the carnage to come. Book of the Week and no mistaking. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Kev Walker, Scott Hanna & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: So it does appear to be that character a lot of us thought it might be on the cover. Fans of a certain age will possibly feel a ripple of excitement, others may scratch their head and wonder who it is, others still may scratch their head and wonder what’s going on, and even more others may scratch their heads and wonder how Jonathan Hickman has managed to coral such an ambitious, byzantine project that has been leading the way to what looks like a rather substantial shake up of the Marvel Universe. I had suggested earlier on in the run that no matter how thrilling it was to see these characters forced into these situations, it was making it extremely difficult to figure out how Hickman was going to pull all this back from the brink. Certain events in the last couple of issues of this title and Avengers have been making it pretty clear that there’s not any way to pull back now, which means some sort of rejigging in the upcoming Secret Wars is a certainty. However that turns out, this – for me, at least – has been one of the most exciting rides I’ve been on with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes since I began reading comics. 8/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Various
DC $7.99

James R: Now this was a pleasant surprise. I will be honest and say that I've always had a soft spot for guidebooks from the Big Two (despite the fact that retconning often renders them worthless by the time they hit the stands!) and Marvel's Book Of The Dead, an accompanying volume to its ‘80s Official Handbook, remains an absolute favourite of mine. I've also been loving Grant Morrison's Multiversity thus far, and Pax Americana was the best single issue published in 2014 in my eyes. Still, I approached this with a degree of trepidation - it's a hefty price tag, and I feared that it could be a cash-in. I'm very pleased to say it's not - it's definitely adding to the rich tapestry of Multiversity, and in a lot of ways, it's a hymn to the mad world of mainstream comics. Morrison recaps the history of DC multiverse crossovers with stylish aplomb, and it's great to finally see all 52 worlds marked out… even though he keeps some worlds concealed for the sake of story to come. As the multiverse is surveyed, it's a lush roster of talent on display too, with Darwyn Cooke, Chris Sprouse, Jae Lee and Bryan Hitch all contributing. There's much to suggest in these pages that Multiversity is shaping up to be the crowning achievement of Morrison's DC work - here's hoping that's true. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: If there’s one problem that seems to go hand in hand with Thor comics and continuity over several years, it’s that the Odinson (as we now have to call our burly, one-armed hero) seems to stride and then regress through character growth in an uncertain and spontaneous manner. This was the god who once ruled Asgard when Odin died, who led his people to defend Midgard against The Serpent, who worked, bled and toiled with past and future to defeat the Godbutcher... and yet on occasion he descends back to that sulking, pouting prince who barks at any threat to his power or integrity with no regard to any previous lessons learned or calculated reason. Aaron has brought the immature and headstrong Thor back here, and while it works very well to highlight just how our new female Thor is different in so many ways to the Thunder God, it still doesn’t feel 100% ‘right’ considering what the Odinson has been through several times previously. Aside from Thor’s current demeanour this is still a highly entertaining read which is not only introducing us to this new hero in a confident and unmissable fashion, but also appears to be Aaron setting up some fundamental shifts for Asgard and its godly denizens in the months ahead. I’m enjoying the way he’s been threading the likes of Roxxon, Jotunheim and Alfheim together around Thor’s trial by fire and there are some really interesting ingredients currently in the mix. Dauterman continues to elevate his work to a higher quality standard throughout and is cementing his place in Marvel’s artistic elite. 8/10

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