12 Apr 2015

Mini Reviews 12/04/2015

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.

JUPITER’S CIRCLE #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Wilfredo Torres & Ive Svorcina
Image $3.50

Stewart R: I’m not quite sure what to make of this and I imagine many readers of Jupiter’s Legacy coming across for some prequel insight may also be surprised by what they find. Compared to the blustering, visceral pace of Legacy it looks like this will be a far steadier, measured look at the 1950s of Millar’s superpower-affected America. Rather than focus on the bigger players of Legacy in Sheldon, Grace or Walter, Millar points the camera point blankly at the former possessor of the Power Rod, Blue Bolt. Richard is clearly not a front and centre member of the team and we get to witness his struggles living with his sexuality in a time and society full of judgement and people living lies. Millar alludes to these struggles by taking a somewhat clichéd route through night time encounters in public parks and Los Angeles high society parties, where prying eyes are (supposedly) kept at bay. It’s what is necessary to set the tone of Richard’s life, but there’s nothing particularly new to be found. Millar does manage to wrap up the paranoia into the grander scheme however, with the team’s direction and FBI’s requests not matching up and underhanded play coming to the fore. It’s too early to tell where this will go and if the rest of the cast will get some much-needed character development, but Torres delivers a book tinged with ‘50s simplicity and style with his visuals and if you can look past the head-banging nods to Watchmen that Millar is peddling, then there’s potential to be found. 7/10

James R: I decided to take a look at this as I've been enjoying Mark Millar's Jupiter's Legacy. That book is definitely Millar on form (though having the genius of Frank Quietly on art duties there certainly helps) and I hoped that this form would extend to the prequel. Sadly not - this is a very well-worn tale of 'Silver Age' heroes. You can almost smell Alan Moore on the pages, such is the influence of Watchmen (and more specifically, the Minutemen) here. Wilfredo Torres does a nice job on the art, but the plot offers us no interesting insight into the characters. Millar also does the awkward thing of placing real-life characters centrally into the plot (J. Edgar Hoover and Katherine Hepburn amongst others) and for me, there's always an issue with verisimilitude when writers do that. I'm aware that these are imaginary stories about people with super-powers, but when they're simply superimposed over history, it feels too contrived. I'll step out of this particular circle and wait for Mr Quitely to carry on the story of Jupiter's Legacy proper. 4/10

THE FOUR POINTS #1
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Art: Jordan Gunderson, John Ercek, Mark Roslan & Valentina Pinto
Aspen $3.99

Stewart R: There were two reasons why I picked this up. Firstly, because I’d been impressed by Lobdell’s work on the Superboy title that spun out of DC’s New 52, and secondly because Aspen titles Dead Man’s Run and Zoohunters began quite brightly. The story forms around Gia, a young woman isolated in a private mental health care refuge whose parents sudden demise not only releases her from the facility but also from her apparent psychiatric problems. Events quickly jump from pillar to post as we learn of a strange phenomenon killing people in different parts of the globe and other young women who exhibit ‘elemental’ powers. Gia’s parents were also ‘protecting her’ by keeping her isolated and in care and it turns out that they used their vast wealth to construct a facility housing strange curiosities from around the world and a base from which to face the oncoming ‘darkness’. So we essentially end up with a poor Batman/Captain Planet/East Of West mashup which offers next to nothing we haven’t seen before. I can see that Lobdell is trying to world-build and do it quickly, but it all feels incredibly hackneyed. On the illustration side of things we get a very ‘Aspen’ looking book with the standard modelling of characters that you expect to find in their titles, things a touch ragged on the inking side and, once again, nothing particularly fresh to shout about. It’s all very middle-of-the-road and as such gets a score to reflect how slightly annoying that is. 4/10

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #2
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Ramón Pérez & Ian Herring
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Ah, here we go. The first issue suffered from having a new creative team when most of us didn’t want to see the old creative team go. It was good, but good enough to step outside of what had come before to find someplace new? With this second instalment, it seems the answer is resoundingly “Yes!” As is often the case with Lemire, All-New Hawkeye is about emotional connections. Half of the story is Clint and Barney as an inseparable pair fleeing to the circus to escape their abusive father, the other follows Clint and Kate infiltrating a Hydra base to make a startling discovery. Very different connections, portrayed very differently (something that’s amplified by the two, massively different artistic styles Pérez utilizes) but both powerful enough to get under the skin. If not quite a bullseye at this stage, it’s damn near close! 8/10

SAVIOR #1
Writers: Todd McFarlane & Brian Holguin
Artist: Clayton Crain
Image $2.99

James R: When I read the solicits for this, I thought this would be right up my street. A comic with a metaphysical aspect to it, one that asks some deep philosophical questions? Where do I sign up?! Even the involvement of Todd McFarlane, a creator whose number of works I've enjoyed can be counted on a stump didn't put me off. Having read it now, my enthusiasm isn't dampened - but my judgement is on hiatus as this first issue only gives as a general sense of the themes to come, and is more of an atmospheric introduction. Clayton Crain does an admirable job of introducing us to the town of Damascus and the supporting cast of Savior, continuing on his fine work from X-Force and Ghost Rider. Our protagonist, the mysterious Samaritan, remains a peripheral figure, and it's clear that this first arc is designed as a slowburn rather than a Black Science-style full-pelt comic. So, not bad and those heavy metaphysical themes could still bear fruit, but it's a prologue rather than a first chapter proper - let's see what happens when the book gathers momentum. 6/10

COPPERHEAD #6
Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski & Ron Riley
Image $3.99

Stewart R: ‘What we got here, is a good old fashioned car chase!’ There’s definitely something about stories involving law enforcement that begs for high speed danger to be part of the action and when it arrives it always tends to fit in like a snug puzzle piece. That’s certainly no exception to the opening of Copperhead’s second arc as Clara and Boo hunt down a felon on the run, the former leaping into the fray with her focus on the quarry, not her own safety. Godlewski has the deft touch to make the speed feel tangible and his use of panel layout captures the short chase perfectly. The dust then settles quickly as we start to learn more about the ways and inhabitants of the mining town of Copperhead, Faerber continuing to tease us with the turbulent pasts of the cast and secretive motives of the present. Clara’s ghosts are still locked away for the moment, but it’s great to see her barrel powerfully forward in her job, yet grind to occasional halts when her demons and personal weaknesses come to the fore. Faerber then introduces further menace come the latter stages that suggests this arc is going to be another tense affair. Quite honestly Copperhead feels like one of the best investments $3.50 can buy from the stands. 9/10

DESCENDER #2
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Image $2.99

James R: Following the buzz around the first issue, it's great to see that Descender's second issue is just as strong. I'm still seeing this as 'Sweet Tooth in space' with a wide-eyed innocent, unaware of his importance, finding himself in the midst of ongoing peril. In this chapter we even get an analogue for Sweet Tooth's Jeppard with the introduction of the imposing 'bot, Driller. Once again, I love the way Lemire handles pace and story - I think he and frequent collaborator Matt Kindt are the masters of balancing plot, character and spectacle. And once again, I'm marvelling at Dustin Nguyen's beautiful art. I said last time that the world of Descender seems to be the perfect fit for his talents, and he confirms that with this issue. His illustration of the moon colony has a wonderful, otherworldly feel, and I love his varied robotic designs. By far and away the best comic on my pull-list this week, and already settling into an essential storytelling groove. 8/10

DARTH VADER #4
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: There’s a lot I really admire about this series. The Adi Granov covers. The portrayal of Vader as a man who realises he’s ultimately expendable so will put his own secret schemes into play to avoid his downfall. Larocca’s semi-photorealistic art matched with Delgado’s evocative colours. The acknowledgement that there’s a man under that suit of armour, one that can’t suppress his emotional past completely. All good stuff. I can sort of tolerate Doctor Aphra, even though she doesn’t come across as someone Vader himself would put up with, regardless of what his endgame was. Those two droids though? No, I’m not buying it. They seem like a one-note joke stretched beyond breaking point and, teamed with Aphra, it becomes a little too hard to swallow that Vader would ever associate with any of them. If they’re a permanent fixture then I get the sense things will only get worse; if they’re temporary, Gillen still has time to get things back on track. 6/10

BIRTHRIGHT #6
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Writer: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas
Image/Skybound $2.99

Matt C: Well, that first page is an astounding example of how to convey a character’s arc with perfect economy. Four panels of brilliance, and an effect that could only be produced in comics. For the rest of the issue the focus is mostly on Mikey and Brennan reconnecting, the sibling bond still proving to be strong even if we, the readers, know that Mikey is concealing a large, dark secret that could very well shatter that bond. In some ways this issue is a bit of a ‘breather’, with the action being kept to a minimum (but when it comes – oh boy!) – the emphasis is on the characters here, and Williamson and co really nail it. Characterization is usually the way into the more fantastical storylines, and there’s not a foot put wrong with every member of the cast having an impact; some more than others, admittedly, but it’s a testament to how involved I am in this narrative that each of them register. The strongest chapter since the debut, one that reaffirms this series’ as an exceptional one. 9/10

DANGER CLUB #8
Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Art: Eric Jones, Michael ‘Rusty’ Drake & Pannel Vaughan
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Sometimes, just sometimes, comic book series can survive an elongated hiatus and come out the other side with readers being able to tie the two ends together and enjoy what transpires - Joe Kelly’s Bad Dog is one example that springs instantly to mind. The same sadly cannot be said for Danger Club. The first five issues back in 2012 and 2013 played out as an escalating betrayal piece as the young sidekicks and heroes fought valiantly in the face of increasing and bloody deaths, leaving us at a precipice where the faintest whiff of an omnipotent, time/space bending threat could be detected, looming over the world. The three issues in 2015 have quickly spiralled out of control into an increasingly difficult, psychedelic read that pretty much requires you to dig out those issues from a few years back (no easy task in some collections I’ll assume!) and recall the motives, machinations and actions of cast members who died four chapters and over 700 real world days ago. I can’t knock the scope of the idea as we finally get some sort of enlightenment in this finale as to why the world’s heroes may have disappeared suddenly, but it just left me feeling a touch cold. This ending feels a touch rushed in places, as if these last three chapters were all the pages available for a creative team with an idea that could have played out across one or two more issues if given the chance. I’m also not convinced that in collected form it’ll make for a more cohesive and understandable read, so quickly and bizarrely do events spiral out of hand. 5/10

SAGA #27
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Image $2.99

Matt C: We don’t review Saga here too often but that may just be because we kind of don’t need to. It’s a critical darling that’s converted praise into sales and genuine devotion from fans, and the thing is, they’re all right. This is a great, great series. You could maybe say that the only reason to review it would be if it started to lose its way or go off the boil. Well, I’m sorry to say there’s no danger of that happening. Vaughan and Staples continue to supply an exciting, surprising, confounding read that never disappoints. It won Best Series in the Paradoscars. And there’s no sign of it letting up. Think of the preceding few sentences as simply a reminder of how good we think/know it is. 8/10

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