30 Mar 2015

Mini Reviews 29/03/2015

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.

PAST AWAYS #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Scott Kolins & Bill Crabtree
Dark Horse $3.99


James R: Following the so-so start of Chrononauts last week, I was delighted that Matt Kindt's time-travel take hits the mark first time. Long-term readers of the blog will know that Matt Kindt has become one of my favourite creators, and his creator-owned series MIND MGMT has been hands-down, my favourite ongoing series. When I read that he was starting a new series - with the extremely capable talents of Scott Kolins - I couldn't wait to see what he came up with. This first issue is a blast from first page until last. Whereas Chrononauts' plot felt rushed, Kindt makes every page count here, establishing the premise of Past Aways, and setting up a number of tantalising mysteries to be unravelled. Our protagonists are time-travellers from the distant future, trapped in the 21st century, and each trying to cope with being stuck in barbaric times. The arrival of a miniature (but lethal) dragon from the future draws the team back together, and the final page reveals an even larger threat for them to deal with. I was really reminded of the Fantastic Four at its best here; from the back cover cutaway of the Past Away's base - Baxter Building-stylee - to the Big Science technology, and down to the dysfunctional family feel. It's a tantalising first glimpse to a big world of storytelling possibilities, and it's hit its stride straight out the gate. 8/10

ELEKTRA #11
Writer: W. Haden Blackman
Art: Michael Del Mundo & Marco D'Alfonso
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This finale rings the death knell on an 11-issue series that has captivated and astounded in equal measure. In that time we've followed Elektra on a single, personal journey to get away from the curses that have plagued her for years which has characteristically resulted in her being plunged neck-deep into those very troubles against new and familiar faces alike. The reintroduction of Bullseye has been brilliantly constructed by Blackman, allowing him to build up the mystery of the Assassins Guild and providing a close and intimate landscape for this final clash to play out in. Blackman has depicted Elektra's self-analysing narration in poetic form throughout and here he sums up her expectation of her own death perfectly - the burden of her life almost guaranteed to ensure an 'unnatural' end to her existence when it comes. To match the fine scripting we of course have Del Mundo's artwork which has been sublime from beginning to end. That doesn't stop here and out of an incredibly high-grade chapter I'll just have to pick out his character work with Bullseye which really does capture just how much of a sick psychopath this resurrected beast is through a great variety of facial expressions. Individual issues or as a collected, this creative team's Elektra is simply unmissable and deserves my first full mark award for quite some time. 10/10

DARTH VADER #3
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’ve been impressed by the subtle manipulations and deceptions of the Dark Lord of the Sith as he’s pursued his own agenda across the first two issues, but his latest chapter feels like a bit of a misstep. The focus shifts away from being primarily on Vader as new additions are made to the cast, primarily the spirited Doctor Aphra, but also a homicidal version of our favourite bickering droid duo. These new characters hog the spotlight and there does seem to be the possibility that Gillen is attempting to create some sort of twisted mirror version of the more familiar band of rebels that first appeared nearly 40 years ago. That’s not what I really signed up for – it doesn’t seem a natural fit for the titular character - and unless there’s some backtracking towards what made the initial instalments so appealing then it could be a case of squandered potential. One iffy issue out of three isn’t quite enough to jump to that conclusion though. 6/10

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #5
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Benjamin Dewey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I'd actually fallen behind in my reading of The Autumnlands after #2 and made a point of catching up this week when on my way to pick up this issue. I'm very glad that I did as this series is developing very nicely indeed as Busiek weaves his wonderful story. Despite the fact that we seem to be on course for something of a telegraphed showdown there's plenty of doubt and bluff being sown by Busiek, with character's motivations remaining hidden and the chance of the unexpected happening a constant presence in the mind. Great Champion Learoyd's allegiance and actions appear to be benevolent at the moment, but even his past and motivations remain shrouded in mystery and not being able to 'read' this cast just sucks you into the enigma even further. Much of that is down to the combined work of the art team who continue to assist this world building with solid scene setting and continued skill in instilling the animalistic cast with visual personality. A high calibre read and once again I was surprised when I turned to the back cover and saw the $2.99 price tag again. 8/10

MULTIVERSITY: ULTRA COMICS #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Doug Mahnke, Gabe Eltaeb & David Baron
DC $4.99

James R: Normally, when I pick up my comics on a Wednesday, once I've read them, I try and stay away from any reviews or fanboy thinking on an issue - I always want to avoid unconsciously plagiarising anybody else's take on a book, and I like to  call it as I've seen it. This week though, I couldn't help but notice an avalanche of criticism towards this title. I'm slightly surprised, as the clue to the content lies in the name 'GRANT MORRISON' - if people are bewildered or disappointed by the content, well, what did you expect? I've said so many times before here that Morrison is the ultimate 'love him or hate him' writer, and his jaw-dropping issues are often followed by overly self-indulgent ones. Personally, Ultra Comics treads the line between these two extremes. Morrison has mined the concept of 'If a character exists in your head, then they're real' a few times before - as has Mike Carey in the pages of The Unwritten. The idea that leapt off the page at me though was the concept of comics and fiction as a distraction - "The oblivion machine eats your precious mortal hours. Grows fat on your wasted time." Now, I don't think this is Morrison's belief about comics or us fanboys and girls, but it was an idea that ignites and is then frustratingly curtailed by the end of the issue. I also have to applaud the way the book 'exists' and is contained by the covers. Two days later, I was still trying to decide how I'd score this - and I find that a positive thing. It certainly looks good too - Doug Mahnke is another artist who goes up a notch when having to bring Morrison's scripts to life. At this moment, I'll wait and see how Morrison ties all this together. In isolation, this can be seen as a little too familiar, but in the wider context of Multiversity, it could be a prelude to something great. I look forward to finding out whichever proves to be the case. 7/10

THE VALIANT #4
Writers: Jeff Lemire & Matt Kindt
Art: Paolo Rivera & Joe Rivera
Valiant Entertainment $3.99

Stewart R: The four-issue event doesn't seem to be the easiest thing to create in terms of balance for story, spectacle and character development in a relatively short space of time. Admittedly, when you have Lemire and Kindt tackling the task in tandem, with a relatively young (or re-galvanized?) and focused comic book universe, that prospect is likely to find success in some form. And with this finale I can only dub this Valiant event a big success. The grand scale skirmish was pushed out of the way an issue ago, redefining the larger picture in the process and pushing Kay and Bloodshot's fight for survival to the fore. Gilad and MI-6's attempts to unlock this story's puzzling MacGuffin adds intrigue to the tension of The Immortal Enemy's stalking of his quarry and the payoff is an emotional kick that I didn't see coming and I imagine will surprise others too. The Riveras have been an inspired choice for the illustrated side of things and that payoff was as powerful as it was thanks to their contributing efforts. Whilst we're given closure on the event itself, there are questions left to be answered which will be further explored in subsequent series. There's no guarantee that I'll invest to discover those answers, but thanks to The Valiant I'm definitely more likely to contemplate the idea! 9/10

NEW  AVENGERS #32
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

James R: We seasoned comics geeks know that there is no real permanent change in mainstream comics. All titles are subject to reboots, relaunches and bare-faced ignoring of past story lines means that any sense of finality should be taken with a pinch of salt. But man alive, Jonathan Hickman does a fine job of hitting the reader right in the feels with this issue of New Avengers. Over the last couple of years, it's been great to watch him develop the relationship between Thor and Hyperion and his skilful addition of the New Universe characters. Therefore, it's been heartbreaking to bid farewell to these characters in an issue packed with Sturm und Drang. Thor's team face off against the Beyonders which - if you break it down - is an old-fashioned slugfest, but it's done in a dazzling and affectinh way. By this stage, I wouldn't expect anything less from Hickman, but Mike Deodato and Frank Martin outdo themselves - after a couple of issues of Original Sin that didn't quite hit the mark for me, Deodato is back on great form here.  Once again, the solicits for the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe are not filling me with a great deal of excitement, so this arc might be my last battle with the Avengers - if so, it's a fine way to finish off. 7/10

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