1 Mar 2015

Mini Reviews 01/03/2015

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.

CRIMINAL: THE SPECIAL EDITION (ONE-SHOT)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $4.99/$5.99

Matt C: A most welcome return for Criminal, even if it is only a one-off. This issue uses the ‘comic within a comic’ device pretty effectively, juxtaposing a short stint inside for Teeg Lawless with the ‘fictional’ comic book adventures of Conan-substitute Zangar the Savage. It makes obvious comparisons – both men are passionate and see violence as a means of solving their problems – but it works because Brubaker and Phillips have both an implicit understanding of the world that the Lawless clan operate in, and are prepared to throw themselves fully into the lurid, stylized brutality of the barbarian loner. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the slightly more expensive ‘Savage Sword Of Criminal’ edition, that gloriously copies the ‘70s magazine format that the likes of Marvel used for their more ‘adult’ content, is the version to get. 8/10

James R: I absolutely adore comics that play with the rules of the medium, and attempt to do something new with the form of sequential art, so it's no surprise that I adore this incredible comic from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. The dynamic duo are currently doing a brilliant job of recounting a noir murder mystery in the pages of The Fade Out, but to us long-time supporters of their work, this is an extra treat. I still think Criminal represents their creative zenith, and it's so good to be back in the world of the Lawless family and the Undertow. What's especially remarkable here is the change in format for the variant edition - an oversized replica of the Conan issues of the 1970s with the character of Zangar standing in as his analogue. We join Teeg Lawless doing some short time in jail, and passing the time flicking through back issues of Zangar The Savage. As he reads the tale - so do we. The notion of the 'play within a play' or the 'comic within a comic' has been done many times before, but it's the attention to detail here that is beautiful to observe - from the cover by Sean Phillips masterfully channelling Frank Frazetta, through the artificially aged paper, to the advertisement for 'The Awesome Secrets of Deadly Kung-Fu' on the back cover, this is magnificent. My only gripe is that we'll have to wait some more before we get another Criminal tale, but man alive, this is more than enough to tide us over. An extraordinary achievement. 10/10

SPIDER-GWEN #1
Writer: Jason Latour
Art: Robbi Rodriguez & Rico Renzi
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There’s been a tonne of hype about Gwen Stacy getting her own series following the events of Dan Slott’s ‘Spider-Verse’ event and I was particularly interested to see what this debut offered following little but huge positive praise for this creative team’s efforts in Edge Of Spider-Verse #2 where this character and universe was introduced initially. Unfortunately, it appears that if you missed EOSV #2 you might find it a touch tough to come in here and feel like you’re lagging a step or two behind. While Latour does his best to introduce everyone here and the status quo, there are odd references back to the events of that other book and unlike other series where mention of lingering history in a debut teases at reveals to come, I was left feeling like I’d missed the boat somewhat and it wasn’t ever likely to turn back up in port. I certainly like the way that familiar faces are scattered throughout in various forms and indicate where the threats and clashes are likely to come from, while Rodriguez is an accomplished artist who’ll draw me to any book he works on following FBP and he delivers top notch material here. Latour does enough with the Vulture plotline and Gwen’s down-on-her-luck attitude to pull me in for a second issue, but it’s not a great start when you feel you have to go searching for other reading material to properly enjoy a series opening and understand fully what’s going on. 6/10

D4VE #1
Writer: Ryan Ferrier
Artist: Valentin Ramon
IDW Comics $3.99

James R: I have to give kudos to Matt C for bringing this one to my attention - he first saw it a while back as a digital comic, and whereas I'm yet to succumb to the delights of binary for my comics fix, I certainly took notice of his enthusiasm for D4ve, and now it's arrived in material form, I can totally see why. A story set after a robot uprising, where our mechanical creations have done away with us but  keep the affectations of human society is a great idea, and I immediately liked D4ve as a protagonist - a former defence-bot who has rid the galaxy of all potential threats, and is now stuck in a dead-end job. It's also funny - I think comedy is tough to do at the best of times, and it's nigh-impossible in comics, so respect firmly due to Ryan Ferrier for a script that's inventive, but with plenty of laughs too. By the end of the issue, with D4ve really down on his luck and an unexpected alien invasion underway, I was genuinely sad to get to the last page. I'm already looking forward to the next issue - thanks to IDW for allowing us IT ignoramuses the chance to share in the greatness of D4ve. 8/10

UNCANNY AVENGERS #2
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Daniel Acuña
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There’s something delightfully epic about the story that Remender is piecing together here and he’s doing it with leftfield character choices. Sabretooth’s newly ethical and compassionate demeanour acts as a strange mirror for the cold, methodical pursuit for perfection that Herbert Wyngarde, the High Evolutionary, displays as he addresses the denizens of his Counter Earth before committing an atrocious ‘cleansing’ of the slate. Remender is back to doing what he does best in tackling a plot from multiple angles and every Avengers’ predicament, which seemed quite isolated and unique last time out, prove to have creeping tendrils which keep them all associated in some form. Acuña’s art is of an exceptionally high standard from cover to last page and he’s come a long way since he first laid down the pencil and inks on the last volume of Uncanny Avengers. He provides an illustrated display that offers something of a classic Bronze Age feel melded with 21st Century composition and colour use that ensures it’s one of the best looking books on the shelf this week. Uncanny and unmissable. Book of the Week. 9/10

Matt C: I’m glad I didn’t judge this too quickly because, after a slightly wobbly start, Remender’s returned to that familiar groove that made Uncanny X-Force and the first volume of Uncanny Avengers such epic, ambitious treats. Here he’s working with another megalomaniacal villain whose singular purpose has led to delusion and an extreme lack of compassion: the High Evolutionary. As much as Remender’s script sets the tone for the series, so does Acuña’s art (as it did with its predecessor): unabashedly grandiose but with an underlying melancholy that seeps in from the edges. 8/10

DARTH VADER #2
Writer: Keiron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

James R: Following Jason Aaron's assured start on the helm of the main Star Wars comic, I took a gamble on the first issue of Darth Vader last month and I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, this second issue does not build on that early promise, and it's an unsatisfying read. It's virtually a done-in-one with Vader on the trail of pirates who are raiding Imperial craft, while also dealing with the suspicious Grand General Tagge. Gillen's plot felt a little laboured to me, and was reminiscent more of the Dark Horse comics I'd read - there's nothing fundamentally wrong, but it just doesn't feel like Star Wars to me. Along with the plot, as we've mentioned before, it's very difficult to get these iconic characters right. Their voices and actions are so burned into the fanboy psyche, that anything a little off really breaks the suspension of disbelief for me. There were a few pages where I thought, "I can't imagine Darth Vader saying/putting up with that…" Finally, the book has something of the Superman problem - if your protagonist is a largely unstoppable badass, you're going to have to come up with something ingenious to slow him/her down. As a consequence, a bunch of pirates and a spy don't really make for compelling tests for the Dark Lord of the Sith. It's a tough job to write something fresh given such tight plot and character constraints, and I salute Gillen for trying, but this book certainly hasn't made the jump into hyperspace for me. 4/10

Matt C: Gillen is doing great work by adding shading to a character that is so familiar and iconic, bringing further complexity to the man who was Anakin Skywalker, showing that Vader was never merely the Emporer’s pitbull, and that when he uttered “Together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.” it was a culmination of something more ,not merely prompted by the appearance of his offspring. It’s clear that Vader is playing his own devious long game here, and those who underestimate him do so at their own peril. Larocca is on top form, his confident photorealistic style capturing the feel of the Original Trilogy exceptionally well. Impressive. Most impressive. 8/10

INHUMAN #12
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Ryan Stegman, Richard Isanove & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Just the other week I previewed a Black Bolt focused series in the shape of Uncanny Inhumans and it’s here that Soule elects to bring the Inhuman King back into the fold of (New) Attilan proper as his former home is besieged by the forces of Ennilux. There’s some ‘last stand’ antics from the NuHumans like Naja, Flint and Inferno which would seem pedestrian and clichéd under other hands, yet Soule has not been afraid to wield the axe through this series and that groundwork ensures that the tension remains suitably high here. I have to say that the Ennilux attack and Iso and Reader’s chase are left feeling a touch underwhelming in this finale, facilitating and stepping somewhat aside as they do to the reunion of Inhuman King and Queen. It’s only a slight misstep though as the marital confrontation that unfolds is scintillating stuff and culminates in one damn fine final page from Stegman that touches on the emotional undercurrent that runs through this book. The Inhumans are certainly looking like Marvel’s future and this title should certainly be in your present pull-list! 8/10

MEN OF WRATH #5
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney & Matt Milla
Marvel/Icon $3.50

Matt C: As expected, a happy ending is not on the agenda. And that’s not a spoiler – if you’ve been reading the story thus far, it was pretty obvious any redemption would be tainted by blood and death. That’s not to say it’s predictable, as there are twists in the tale, and neither Aaron or Garney pull any punches as they wind things up. Bleak, grim but compulsive right up to the final page. 8/10

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