8 Feb 2015

Mini Reviews 08/02/2015

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.

CLUSTER #1
Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Damian Couceiro & Michael Garland
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: A damn decent start here from Brisson, Couceiro and Garland as they deliver a debut that sets damn near everything up within 22 ad-free pages of sci-fi comic greatness! Damn! The premise has mankind venturing further out into the cosmos, but as it’s lacking the muscle to police and protect its assets it turns to its prison population to make up the numbers and attempt to bust down their sentence at the same time. We’re given a hazy look into the events that led Samara to her current predicament: a heavy personal loss that has her either hiding in prison or seeking redemption through it, and Brisson has her come out from under her cloud of isolation at all the right points to get the reader on her side. The surrounding cast of characters are nothing particularly unexpected at this juncture, but with prison/war dramas it tends to be about the later reveals and at this early point the cast seem diverse enough and perfectly placed to expand upon from here. Of course, how many of them will make it to the final page is up for debate as Brisson throws a great many hurdles in their path to ensure that the fight for survival in surrounds unknown is going to be full of danger, the tick of the clock and most probably fatalities. Within the terrific Stokoe cover - a great, subtler composition from the maestro of glorious detail - Couceiro and Garland produce a sure-handed and gritty visual that keeps a fine consistency between prison riots to the war-torn wasteland. Garland gets an added nod from me for his palette of desert browns and cloudy blues that seep through the issue and provide Cluster with a sheen of its own. Definitely worth a look if you’re hunting for a new read. 9/10

NAMELESS #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn
Image $2.99

Matt C: He has a lot of very passionate supporters but personally I’ve never been a huge fan of Grant Morrison. On occasion – for example, We3 or Joe The Barbarian – his natural inclination for pretentiousness is stripped away to be replaced by a storyteller who strives and often reaches profundity. Most of the time though I get the feeling that in his attempts to show how clever he is he generally comes across as abstruse, purposefully so at that, and to be honest, I have little patience for that kind of thing. The art’s strong but the story – something about dreams and an incoming extinction level event – left me cold and uninterested. 5/10

C.O.W.L. #8
Writer: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel
Artists: Rod Reis
Image Comics $3.50

James R: Wow. This series is phenomenally good. With each issue, the creative team of Higgins, Siegel and Reis just keep topping their previous efforts, and this is truly superhero comics at their best. I hate to use the 'elevator pitch' to describe anything, but this really is Mad Men meets Watchmen (and seeing that those are two of my favourite things of all time, trust me, that's high praise!) The series captures the feel of the early ‘60s perfectly (and that's entirely due to Rod Reis' masterful work) whilst spinning a crime tale that's full of intrigue and rich characters. This issue was the perfect example of the plot thickening: as the investigation into the death of John Pierce gathers pace, C.O.W.L. chief Geoffrey Warner continues to manipulate events around him with Machiavellian skill. One of the things I love about C.O.W.L. is that everyone is compromised in some way - there's no absolute hero or villain in the book, and as Kyle Higgins says in the letters pages, "Nobody's an archetype." Finally, a special mention to the soundtrack for this comic. Having bought the 'C.O.W.L. Sessions' I can happily vouch for its smooth jazz quality, and it just adds another layer to the immersive and rewarding reading experience of this book. 9/10

STAR WARS #2
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: John Cassaday & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: With the first issue there was this nagging feeling that I enjoyed it so much because I was willing it to be great – I desperately wanted to love the new ‘in continuity’ Star Wars comic and didn’t want to allow myself to be disappointed. Second issue in and I’m much, much more confident that my initial reaction was genuine because this is a goddamn blast of pure, unadulterated fun! Luke, Han and Liea with the odds stacked against them, Vader being the badass character he was before he got that emotional chink in his armour, Threepio bumbling his way into calamity, Stormtroopers seemingly walking directly into blaster fire…. Aaron pretty much nails it in every respect, and with Cassaday on top form, along with Martin easily displaying why she’s one of the best in the business, there’s very little to fault here. Any residual doubts fall away as this title seems like it’s about to launch into hyperspace and beyond. 9/10

BIRTHRIGHT #5
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artists: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas
Image $2.99

James R: After issue #4 of Birthright I had wondered how long Joshua Williamson could keep the plot moving - having kicked the series off with an almighty twist, I feared that it may have peaked too soon and it was now just a matter of the narrative working itself out. I needn't have worried, as issue #5 ups the stakes once again. We get the huge throwdown between Mikey and Ward that we built towards last time out, but we also have yet another element crossing over from Terrenos to Earth - I won't spoil it, but it's definitely made me want to keep reading. It's a tribute to Williamson's skill as a writer that I'm actively enjoying a book that features lines like: "The flaming sword of Mount Blood." Usually, fantasy plots leave me utterly cold, but there's something compelling about this tale that's got me hooked. Andrei Bressan's art continues to be a perfect fit for this book, grounding the fantastical elements in reality enough to make them seem all the more convincing. It's pretty well established how much we here at the PCG have been won over by Image over the last few year, but once again, respect due for keeping this book at an affordable $2.99. As the Big Two continue to push up their prices, Birthright is proof positive that quality doesn't have to hurt the fanboy wallet. 8/10

POSTAL #1
Writers: Bryan Hill & Matt Hawkins
Art: Isaac Goodhart & Betsy Gonia
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Matt C: The premise was enticing enough to warrant a look – a town full of crooks where crime is outlawed – but Hill and Hawkins throw in an element I wasn’t expecting: having a protagonist who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. That has the potential to be an extremely misguided move if not handled delicately or without any real understanding of the condition, but luckily the writers avoid it becoming a gimmick by presenting it honestly and realistically, so it becomes a part of the character’s makeup rather than a distraction from the plot. Newcomer Goodhart impresses by getting the emotional connection (or lack thereof) of what is largely an action-free issue front and centre, but shows that when the action comes he’s got the chops to handle that too. A smart, inventive, unusual whodunit in the making. 8/10

AVENGERS #41
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It’s an incredibly ballsy move to use that cover but Hickman (again) justifies the decision as he ingeniously moves the Ultimate Universe that little bit closer to the 616 Universe before they crash together for Secret Wars. At some point we’re going to have to take a step back and marvel (Marvel!) at the sheer audaciousness of what Hickman has achieved over the last couple of years in fashioning such an incredible storyline that seems like it genuinely will shape the future of the Marvel Universe (for the time being at least). Not every beat of the narrative has fit into the overall rhythm but by and large it’s been a creative success, and quite possibly more ambitious than any other run corralled by a single creator in a long, long while. That may sound like hyperbole but I sincerely believe this is the real deal and that time will prove I’m right. 8/10

HAWKEYE #21
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $3.99

James R: Let's get the important bit out of the way at the start - it's a brilliant comic, and you need to buy it. There, done! I'm sure you've all read enough about this Hawkeye series over the last couple of years and, aside form a couple of missteps with the 'Kate Bishop in LA' storyline, it's been the finest comic Marvel have put out this decade. As I read this penultimate issue, I found that I was both entertained (it's a properly spectacular standoff between Clint's building and the Russian Bro's) but I couldn't help but feel a little sad. Firstly, that the series is coming to an end when there seemed to be plenty more mileage in the Barton groove for this dynamite creative team, and secondly, that it's been dogged by delays. As a fanboy that will never trade-wait there is something about a long delay with a book's schedule that just takes the edge off it. With Marvel about to hit the reset button, I'll be interested to see if there's a series halfway as clever or inventive as Hawkeye in its roster. I hope so, but for now, I'm enjoying these final shots from the bow of Fraction and Aja - they've been remarkable. 9/10

THE PUNISHER #15
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Mitch Gerads
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: In my review of issue #14 I’d stated that the focus had been grabbed away from Frank and was leaning a little too close to the Howling Commandos for my liking. Well, now it’s clear to see why Edmondson opted to shift the limelight that way as the story has now twisted into something that marries the best of his work on The Activity with this scintillating Punisher series. This chapter is all about the shifting line of war that Frank has had to fight on the ground and which has been changing behind the scenes in Washington, Moscow, Shanghai and all of the political power hubs of the 21st Century world. The script here is Edmondson doing what he does best: capturing the ‘feel’ of the military machine with its design and structure and then showing the way in which human hearts and minds deal with that structure. There are comparisons and mentions of the recent Westernised conflicts here, brought into the fictional, yet engrossing Marvel Universe collapse of Los Angeles order and I loved how Edmondson continued Frank’s narration over the top of Officer Stone’s continuing ‘bad day’ through which we actually see the effect the Punisher and Dos Soles Cartel have had on a modern, cosmopolitan city in such a short space of time. It’s gritty, gripping stuff from writer and artist combined and worthy of a 9/10

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