22 Feb 2015

Mini Reviews 22/02/2015

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.

EI8HT #1
Writers: Rafael Albuquerque & Mike Johnson
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Dark Horse $3.50

Matt C: Just in case we were thinking that Image have the market cornered for great creator-owned properties, Dark Horse are here just to remind us that’s simply not the case. Ei8ht sees Rafael Albuquerque flex his artistic muscles outside of just his hugely impressive illustrative abilities to concoct a time-travelling mystery that promises a great deal in its debut issue. There are a lot books dealing with the notion of jumping through time at the moment (Black Science springs to mind on occasion whilst reading Ei8ht) but as time travel is one of the great frontiers of science and science fiction, it’s unavoidable that creators will be drawn back repeatedly to a concept that offers so many storytelling possibilities. Perhaps the greatest thing about Ei8ht at this juncture is the way it stealthily avoids playing to expectations, offering a plentiful supply of surprises as it winds its way to a great cliffhanger. A very strong opener. 8/10

Stewart R: It might be said that time/dimension-hopping science fiction books seem to be ten-a-penny these days with some very strong titles amongst the horde - see Black Science, FBP - and now we have American Vampire artist, Rafael Albuquerque, throwing his idea into the arena. It’s certainly a polished debut with Albuquerque and Johnson opting for a colour coordinated past/present/future form of storytelling as Joshua’s mission and odd details about it become apparent. The palette certainly gives this talented artist’s work a new feel, this book a distinct look and the locales (and times) an otherworldly aesthetic. I’ll be honest and say that there’s nothing uniquely new about the plot, complete with time travel amnesia, mysterious voices on the phone, chronologically displaced Nazi-a-like antagonist, but there is something compelling in the mystery and the way these writers are delivering it and continuing signs that outside of Image, Dark Horse continue to be a fine selector and publisher of creator-owned work. 8/10

MOON KNIGHT #12
Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Greg Small Wood & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Brian Wood sees out his brief tenure on this book with this closing instalment to his arc that doesn’t quite hit the dramatic heights of its predecessors. That's largely because, after the perfectly judged pacing of the first five chapters, this finale feels a bit rushed in comparison. It’s not exactly a disappointment, it just didn’t seem like it was sustaining the trajectory to hit the target it had been heading towards. Artistically speaking, it’s remained at a high level, with Smallwood again playing with grid structures to dazzling effect and Bellaire displaying why she’s currently one of the best in the biz. So, while it may not have hit my – admittedly high – expectations, this is still a generally satisfying ending to an excellent six-issue storyline, and I now look forward to what Cullen Bunn has up his sleeve when he takes over next month. 7/10

BITCH PLANET #3
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Robert Wilson IV & Chris Peter
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Kelly Sue is putting a crew together and before the grand plan kicks into full gear she takes a moment to give us a little insight into one of the true stars so far, Penny Rolle. Whenever there’s been a brawl depicted in the pages of Bitch Planet thus far, Penny has either been part of its inception, or gotten stuck in shortly afterwards. It’s a nice touch to bring something more to her at this early stage and DeConnick doesn’t pull back the curtain fully, leaving finer details to either be revealed later, or left to our imagination. We get glimpses of happier childhood times swiftly steamrolled by the machinations of adult life, alongside further expansion on this patriarchally dictated world and Penny’s frustration and rebellion against it. I particularly like the way that DeConnick paints the fathers with a grey brush as they interact with her, subduing any malevolent, villainous overtones and pushing the idea that their actions are intended as caring and benevolent in their naive and very misguided eyes, looking over a restrictive and vacuous world. Wilson IV deserves credit here as he maintains the tone with some fine expression work throughout and while Valentine Delandro is the series regular, I’d love to see more of Wilson’s work on Bitch Planet should we get more character spotlight issues. 8/10

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #4
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Benjamin Dewey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

Matt C: This book continues to dazzle. Busiek has brought a meticulously constructed fantasy realm to the page, with what seems like a wealth of backstory to build upon, and then thrown in an element that could easily have derailed the whole enterprise. A profane warrior with sci-fi origins enters a world of talking animals and magic, but rather than let the incongruity of this overwhelm the story, the writer has taken it in his stride to create something totally unexpected and unique. Dewey’s illustrations continue to provide the series with a real sense of verisimilitude even with the fantastical characters and environments on display – the detail and accuracy he brings to the proceedings takes things up a notch, and with Bellaire employing the realistic hues and tones, this is a wonderful book to feast your eyes upon. It's perhaps the kind of series that you could make a judgement on what you think it would be like based on its premise and I can say with near certainty that you’d be way off base with your assumptions. In other words, it would be wise to give it a shot if you’ve not done so already. 8/10

THE VALIANT #3
Writers: Jeff Lemire & Matt Kindt
Art: Paolo Rivera & Joe Rivera
Valiant Entertainment $3.99

Stewart R: There’s something about this ‘event’ book that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps the fact that I’ve bookended the word event in apostrophes there which gets to some of the strangeness that surrounds the feel and delivery of The Valiant. From the thick, premium cover to the splash page featuring the majority of the Valiant canon - with of course the two A-grade writers and top talent artist on visuals - there are several elements here which suggest this is what we have come to expect from event books these days, especially when it comes to the Big Two of Marvel and DC. Certainly the escalation of events and the depiction of the Immortal Enemy’s world-threatening power feels familiar from years of comic book reading. What has stirred my brain on the matter though, has been Lemire and Kindt’s quick shift to close, intimate character work between Bloodshot and his charge, the new Geomancer, Kay McHenry. The interaction between the two here is tightly written as they attempt to lay low, Kay’s intrigue with her protector well realised and possibly alluding to the details of the battle to come in the concluding chapter. The focus flicks back and forth between the macro of the danger and the micro of Kay and Bloodshot’s conversation with ease and we’ll see how everything gets tied together soon! 8/10

LAZARUS #15
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Tyler Boss & Santi Arcas
Image $3.50

Matt C: I’m wary of coming back to the Game Of Thrones repeatedly in case it suggests that Lazarus exists only within its slipstream (which is emphatically not the case) but the comparison is a good indicator for what makes Lazarus so great as it plays with similar themes of power, loyalty and corruption, populates the story with characters of depth and complexity, all the while displaying a boldness when approaching narrative expectations. In this issue, things appear to be heading towards some semblance of predictability before Rucka pushes things off course quite spectacularly. The real star of the show here though is Michael Lark, who provides 13 consecutive, beautifully choreographed pages of action as Forever Carlyle and Sonja Bittner engage in trail by combat. It’s a marvellous sequence, full of tension and energy, with Santi Arcas’ muted colours ensuring the blood-splattered brutality of the fight is palpable. Outstanding as always, and why this isn’t riding high near the top of the sales charts is beyond me. 9/10

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