15 Mar 2015

Mini Reviews 15/03/2015

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.

SOUTHERN CROSS #1
Writer: Becky Cloonan
Art: Andy Belanger & Lee Loughridge
Image $2.99


Stewart R: A last minute gamble once again pays off! Southern Cross is certainly thick on atmosphere in a setting where it's pretty damn sparse! Across the six opening pages - including a very neat use of the inside cover (more comics could surely optimise that space this well?) - we meet Alex Braith, get an idea of the grim, industrial space-faring world in which she lives and learn of her personal mission to get to Titan. Thanks to some adept character design from Belanger - everyone looks like they shop in a strange mash-up store specialising in wardrobes from The Thing and Alien Resurrection - Cloonan's frosty interactions are amplified and it really sells the sense that this cast have skeletons galore in their closets and no-one is quite on the level. Admittedly Alex's gruff, isolated demeanour makes her a tough protagonist to warm to early on, but I get the feeling the story and the reveals are going to be what propels this series onwards. On the art side, Belanger just doesn't hold back with every page offering something new in terms of panel layout and composition while Loughridge wins again with a reserved use of colour that adds to that sense of submarine claustrophobia in the sea of dark space. Southern Cross gets a definite 'tick' from me! 8/10


HELLBREAK #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Churilla & Dave Stewart
Oni Press $1.00


Matt C: It great premise: there are an infinite number of Hells out there and the souls of the damned get to spend the rest of eternity in a variety of less than hospitable environments.  Unless, of course, Project Kerberos are hired to get them out.  We get the Special Forces archetypes populating the cast – no-nonsense leader with dark past, bespectacled science boffin, kick-ass chick etc – and that’s all well and good, but what this kind of thing needs is a dramatic hook to bring you back for more. There is a hook there, but it’s not strong enough to make this stand out from the crowd, especially with the rather formulaic approach it takes to setting the scene. For a dollar it’s worth a look but I don’t see this as the replacement to Bunn’s soon-to-be-concluding Sixth Gun that Oni Press are no doubt hoping it will be. 6/10


ALL-NEW X-MEN #37
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mike Del Mundo
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: Yes, I've dipped back into the world of mutants steered by Bendis, and no, I'm not staying, but I will say that this brief visit was certainly worth my time and money. I was essentially brought here by the lure of Mike Del Mundo's work and as we've come to expect it is a visual delight as he casts his inks and paints across the scummy alleyways of current Mutant refuge/cesspit Madripoor. The large added bonus to the eyeball stroking is that we actually find Bendis on good, focussed form as he develops the relationship of Emma Frost and the young (ugh) time-displaced Jean Grey, tapping into the bitter resentment the teacher has for her pupil's older self, but channelling it into something positive. The scripting is both playful and revealing as Emma teases and educates Jean in equal measure while possibly offering up a little too much in the way of revelations that could jeapordise the sanctity of the timestream in a subtle way. It's a solid effort all around and works pretty well as a one-shot for this 'dive in/dive out' reader. 9/10


NEW AVENGERS #31
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Kev Walker & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99


James R: So, I'm still considering leaving the Marvel Universe for good with the commencement of Secret Wars. Sure, I'll take a look at it as a series, but there's the sheer cost of reading Marvel in 2015 (you get limited bang for your three bucks and ninety-nine cents these days) and the fact that the 'Battleworld' books have left me seriously underwhelmed at initial glance. And when it comes to the creative force behind this epic run, well, I don't even think this is the best book Jonathan Hickman has out this week (hat goes to the perma-fantastic East Of West.) BUT!...damn, there was an absolute, old-school fanboy joy in reading this issue for me. Doctor Strange, now seemingly in charge of all the Black Priests, ventures into the heart of the multiverse to find Rabum Al-Al (stay with me here), the shadowy figure behind the Black Swans. And the reveal? Well, I won't spoil it, but as an old Marvel reader, it paid off magnificently. I have to salute Hickman again; as the pieces behind this huge plot have fallen into place, they've kept me totally on board. If this is the end of my regular monthly Marvel reading, I think I'm signing off on a high - it's all building up to a spectacular conclusion. 7/10


STAR WARS #3
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: John Cassaday & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: The end of the first three-part arc and one word has remained a constant so far: fun.  Aaron, Cassaday and Martin are delivering exactly what you’d want from a comic featuring that iconic logo on the cover. It’s understandably much more in the freewheeling style of A New Hope than the darker-tinged The Empire Strikes Back, but it allows us to get to know these characters a little better at this stage of their relationships without undermining what we know comes after. Perhaps there are points where it feels a bit hindered by having to stay within certain boundaries, and maybe the dialogue in places is a little too similar to some more memorable lines, but these are minor quibbles in what is essentially an enormously thrilling and – that word again – fun comic book experience. 8/10

James R: The Force continues to be strong in this one. Apart from a pretty shonky cover (What's going on with Luke?) this book still 'feels' like Star Wars to me. It's the right mix of Saturday morning serial action and the characters done right - you can imagine this being an Episode 4.5. Praise has to go to Jason Aaron who gets that mix of action and dialogue without making the book too talky or exposition-heavy. Kudos to the art team too - John Cassaday may not have been at his best when he kicked off Uncanny Avengers a few years back, but his work here is never anything less than a treat on the eyes. My ongoing concern was how long this series can realistically run for, but the epilogue here immediately made me want more... and to read the next issue as soon as possible! So for now I'll take that as an extremely positive sign. 8/10


THE SURFACE #1
Writer: Ales Kot
Art: Langdon Foss & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.50


Matt C:  I’ve been very much enjoying Ales Kot’s future-spy thriller, Zero, from Image, so an opportunity to take a look at another creator-owned project from him was not going to be missed.  I’ll say this for it: it’s smart, it’s daring, and it’s teeming with impressive sci-fi ideas. But does it work? For me, not quite. It’s seems more of cerebral exercise in playing with the form, coming across as very meta in places, but unfortunately all this neuters much of the emotional connection you’d expect to be making in some fashion at this stage of the story.  I was initially quite taken with The Surface – which, at its most basic, postulates that our reality may be an enormously sophisticated hologram – but as things progressed I became more disconnected with what was going on. At points, I was reminded of Warren Ellis’ Doktor Sleepless, as it explored similar themes, but rather than get me more engaged in The Surface, it had me pining for Ellis’ long-abandoned, incomplete series.  Admirable but perhaps too oblique. 6/10


SHELTERED #15
Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Jonnie Christmas & Shari Chankhamma
Image $2.99


Matt C: This ‘pre-apocalyptic tale’ reaches its conclusion, and with all the main fireworks exploding in the preceding issue, this one concentrates on the fallout. In amongst the regrets and recriminations are some possibly rather obvious points being made – particularly how the media spins tragedies to the public – but they still retain their effectiveness thanks to the quality of the storytelling on display. Sheltered has been a dramatically thrilling, astutely characterized and emotionally rendered trip into the madness of the survivalist mentality, and if you missed out on this series then you’re advised to place your order for the collected edition now. 8/10

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