23 Mar 2015

Mini Reviews 22/03/2015

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.

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Sean Gordon Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
Image $3.50

James R: Even though the gimmick is different - time-travel rather than dimension-hopping - I was reminded of Black Science as I read the first issue of Chrononauts. There's a good few similarities - a genius protagonist who could be a better husband, a revolutionary scientific breakthrough that could potentially threaten the safety of the world, a mishap that acts as a catalyst for the plot, and a narrative that moves forward at a breakneck pace. Whereas Rick Remender's series has been assured from it's first pages, Chrononauts doesn't quite feel so measured. It has to be said that the book looks absolutely fantastic; Sean Gordon Murphy has totally earned his place as an A-list artist, and his work here is as impressive as usual. In one page alone he illustrates the Battle of Gettysburg, a Japanese Kendo dojo and a strip club with sheer panache. My issue comes, as usual, from Millar's script. In his rush to establish the time-travelling hi-jinx, he neglects to make us care about either Doctors Quinn or Reilly (both of whom struck me as people I wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with). It may calm down in the next issue, but given my anticipation for this book, it only succeeded in the visual stakes. For high-paced wild science adventures, I'm sticking with Black Science. 6/10

Matt C: This is Mark Millar in powerhouse high concept mode (which, to be fair, is kind of his default setting) and this time around he’s got Sean Murphy providing his usual intricate, energetic visuals, which obviously makes a big difference, elevating things to a blockbuster level of excitement. This is a scientists-as-rock-stars story – think Downey Jr’s Tony Stark – and as such it’s clearly implausible, but it’s delivered with such unstoppable verve that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it all. I know Millar winds some people up with his constant self-promotion, but when he hits all the right notes (as he does here) none of that really matters. 8/10

Writers: Gabriel Hardman & Corinna Bechko
Art: Gabriel Hardman & Jordan Boyd
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Set as a mid-societal collapse, ‘The True Story Of...’ piece, Hardman and Bechko’s Invisible Republic kicks things off with a sweeping feel of testing times and a grim sense of foreboding. The ‘present’ of Avalon is a world immersed in entropy and depression as the crumbling ruins of the Malory regime play home to its bitter citizens and one journalist looking for a story and a reaction. When he finds it, we’re transported back 40 years to a slightly brighter, yet no less dangerous and tense time. We meet the now deposed dictator, Arthur McBride, and his cousin in the early days of Avalon’s settlement when an evident military power struggle comes knocking on their tent door. From this point we get to see Hardman at his storyboard best as a fight to the death ensues, every panel adding to a terribly tense skirmish which doesn’t give us any of the details of how Maia and Arthur ended up in their predicament, but does give us insight into the type of people they may be. It’s a brooding start and I can’t wait to see what terrible skeletons come crawling out of Arthur McBride’s closet! 8/10

C.O.W.L. #9
Writers: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel
Art: Rod Reis
Image $3.99

Matt C: I still get the sense that this series is flying under too many peoples’ radars; it should be a buzz book but it never picks up the same kind of attention that other, higher profile titles receive. I’ll keep on banging the drum for it – I’m gradually turning other members of the PCG onto its brilliance – as I desperately want C.O.W.L. to be successful enough so the creators can keep it going. It’s the kind of complex adult drama (with superheroes!) that deserves a wide audience. It brings to mind things like Watchmen, James Ellroy’s LA crime books, film noir, ’50 jazz… and as these are some of my favorite things, it’s no surprise that I rate it so highly. There’s a collection of issues #1 to #5 out there already, and another one shouldn’t be too far off. Get on it now. 8/10

James R: Once again, it's a superior issue of C.O.W.L. I've got very little to add that I haven't done so in my effusive praise of the earlier issues, but I feel that more people should be picking this up, and I want to take the opportunity to say 'BUY THIS BOOK!' It's one of the most perfectly realised comics I've read in a long time - Higgins and Siegel's script continues to achieve a perfect balance between the human elements and the cracking political intrigue that lies at the heart of this comic. Rod Reis' art also seems to get better and better with every issue and his colours give the book a wonderful sense of time and place. As an extra sprinkle of geeky goodness, this issue sees the creative team play with rules of the medium as a great fight and chase between Radia and Doppler sees the latter villain use a letter 'D' from a speech bubble as a weapon, and the screams of his hostage as a cushion as he leaps from a window. Once again, it's an absolute joy to read, and was up against stiff competition in the shape of MIND MGMT and a great issue of Zero as my book of the week, but there's a class to this title that makes it tower above the other. Once again for good measure: buy this book! 9/10

Writer: Xavier Dorison
Art: Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson
Image $2.99

Matt C: Kind of a strange one this. A Euro take on the Soviet-spy-in-the-US plotline (which would have benefited from being presented in the larger European format, truth be told), it almost doesn’t work but somehow it avoids a number of traps that it looks like it’s about to fall into, resulting in a rather slinky, witty, engaging read.  Dorison is someone I’m familiar with from accomplished bandes dessinées’ Long John Silver and Third Testament - this is quite a different proposition but he never once feels outside of his wheelhouse and there’s a lot of chat and some fine – if bizarre – characterization in evidence. Dodson is perhaps the real star of Red One at this stage though as his slick compositions are possibly the best work I’ve seen from him yet. There was a point early where I wasn’t sure this was going to hit the spot but it won me around quite quickly, enough for me to want to see this through to its quirky conclusion. 8/10

James R: Or: 'Black Widow - The 70s Hollywood Years!' I wasn't sure about Red One when I read the solicitation in Previews, but I wanted to give it a try for the artwork of the Dodsons alone. As you'd expect from them, the book looks beautiful, and is absolutely rammed with plot for your $2.99, but it was definitely an uneven first issue. There's some great ideas here - the idea of a Soviet agent undercover in Hollywood is a nice concept (and as the endnotes mention, it's been echoed in the TV series The Americans) and Dorison is clearly looking to channel elements of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman and Charlie's Angels. But on the strength of this issue, these elements don't sit together too well. There's a certain leery quality to it, which I know works for a lot of male readers, but always leaves me cold. The introduction of the book's first villain, Carpenter was pretty grizzly (which in itself is fine) but that then jarred with the almost slapstick scenes of Vera's arrival in Hollywood. It might find its feet in the next couple of months, but Red One is an apposite description of how many issues of this title I'll be picking up. 5/10

Stewart R: Well, this is a very interesting introduction all around. Dorison kicks things off by ditching some of the hackneyed, Hollywood visions of the Cold War-era Soviet Union, pokes around in the internal US fight for the hearts, minds and innocence of the citizens of the '70s capitalist superpower, and throws a vigilante/superhero façade into the spy and espionage mix. On paper that sounds like there’s a little too much going on, but Dorison opens with a pacy, whirlwind of ideas in a tone-setting opening scene before slowing things down a touch as we meet the personable Vera Yelnikov. I enjoyed the way that the political strokes are painted in relatively light tones or odd asides amongst the plot progression, with more attention given to smaller moments that speak volumes - Vera’s homelife suggesting a liberal undercurrent to Soviet life, while skin-flick director Lew’s demeanour suggests there’s darkness and depression to be found inside the pursuits of the American Dream. The real surprise here however, is the applause-worthy, sterling work delivered by the Dodsons on art. Having not been the biggest fan of their work with Marvel I’ve been blown away here by a shift to smaller, tighter panel composition that really accentuates this pair’s joint style, with a slightly subtler and lighter ink hand from Rachel Dodson working true, eye-stroking wonders through a 36 page comic priced at $2.99. Enjoyable from cover to cover and Red One is certainly my number one pick of the week! 9/10

Writers: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Bengal
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Thanks to the mind-bogglingly annoying Shaolin Cowboy from Geof Darrow and Dark Horse comics I think I’m scarred and wary when it comes to dialogue free comic books and that probably won’t go away anytime soon. That said, if I were presented with more examples such as this Batgirl one-shot in the near future, I dare say those issues could well be dispelled! I’ve next to no idea what 'Endgame' as an event/storyline is about, and thankfully don’t feel the tug to find out from this (my pull-list is packed enough thank you!). Instead I got to flick through the pages of a Barbara Gordon action set-piece as she attempts to evacuate the Fox family from a stranded bus, stuck on a bridge and surrounded by a horde of Joker-gassed/infected (I guess?) victims.  While Stewart and Fletcher likely drafted the story here, I have to heap my praise onto Bengal for translating and adapting it to the page in such masterful style. His linework is very reminiscent of Jason Pearson’s (Body Bags) and, being a dialogue-less sequence, his visual storytelling and angle choices imbue the page with the touch and feel found in DC’s exceptional animated efforts. There’s a palpable sensation of tension and excitement as Batgirl has to dive into action and though over in a few blinks of the eyes, it’s illustration of the highest order that has you going back two or three times, at the very least, to soak it all in. 8/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Ron Ackins, Tom Palmer, Walden Wong, Victor Olazaba & Dan Brown
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I guess this six-issue-per-creative-team lark was going to hit a bump in the road sooner or later. Following on from Warren Ellis and Brian Wood was always going to be a challenge, but I’m familiar enough with Cullen Bunn’s work to believe that he was up to it.  Unfortunately this feels like it’s a failed attempt to tap into the same vein of dark, schizophrenic storytelling this series has thrived on so far, missing the point and even going so far as to skirt closely to repetition. This has gone from being one of the best (the best?) books Marvel are publishing to being a largely forgettable one within the space of a single issue. I’ll sit this out and await the next creative team, if it gets that far. 5/10

Writer: John Allison
Art: Lissa Treiman
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: The idea behind imprint BOOM! Box is making experimental comics 'for the love of it' and there's plenty to love about this first issue of University/College dramedy, Giant Days, though I wouldn't necessarily call it experimental. We're introduced to a trio of female friends, Daisy, Esther and Susan, who form a quirky bunch to be sure. Allison even has them acknowledge the unlikely bond that they share from the get-go with some great, single panel examples of the extraordinary and crazy events that helped bring them together. That's possibly a playful nod at the more down-to-earth problems about to descend upon the threesome through these six issues. There are jokes about being a drama queen, a dip into autonomous sensory meridian response (look it up) and the scowling, cafeteria food accident hijinks that come from an ex boyfriend turning up to ruin a day, semester or even entire year. It's all incredibly charming and playful with Allison's dialogue combining very well with Treiman's touch for visual comedy. I'm not entirely sure how this specifically fits into BOOM!'s experimental category, but it'll certainly fit well enough in my pull-list for now! 8/10

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