3 May 2015

Mini Reviews 03/05/2015

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.

AVENGERS #44
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker & Frank Martin
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: And so it all comes to a head and, inevitably, it’s Rogers and Stark in the eye of the hurricane, at loggerheads. There are an awful lot of threads to tie together as Hickman winds this series up prior to the launch of the Secret Wars event, and unfortunately some of those threads fall by the wayside, but by keeping a tighter focus on Cap and Iron Man and tracking it all the way back to the very first issue, it proves to be an effective and powerful way to get to the emotional core of the narrative. There’s more to it of course – it is a double-sized issue after all – and the way Hickman overlaps the Ultimate Universe with the 616 Universe is very cleverly done, much more organic and creative than it could have perhaps been in other hands. It’s more of a bridge than a conclusion, and there’s a lot riding on Secret Wars for those of us who’ve been on board alongside Hickman since the beginning, but to muster something as labyrinthine and smart as this in a major franchise comic book series, the writer deserves a round of applause. 7/10

NEW AVENGERS #33
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $4.99

James R: Whenever I write reviews, I try and judge a comic on its own merits - I see them as an end in themselves. However, this week it was impossible to do that as Jonathan Hickman wraped up his marathon Avengers run with two bumper-sized issues. New Avengers edged it as the best read though - and why? Because sometimes, villainy is just more fun! Having revealed in the last issue that the great destroyer Rabum Alal is (Yes!) Doctor Doom, Hickman gives us a thrilling peek behind the curtain of Victor Von Doom's machinations. The script has the writer pulling out all the stops, with Doom travelling through the multiverse to kill every iteration of the Molecule Man in order to halt the incursions engineered by the Beyonders. Along with Matt C, I'm a big fan of Doom - a character driven by genius but yet also a staggering ego - and Hickman gets him just right, with equal parts pure rationality, hubris and and swagger. Mike Deodato's art is as grand as always, and Frank Martin's moody colours perfectly suit this darker half of this Avengers epic. I still can't get excited by Secret Wars, but as the culmination of a couple of years of plot and storytelling, this was something else. Pure fanboy joy from first page until the last. 9/10

RED ONE #2
Writer: Xavier Dorison
Art: Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I gave the opener my Book of the Week nod and, to be quite honest, this deserves another one to add to the collection! Having dived straight into her US-based mission and immersed herself in the American culture of the 1970s, Vera takes the fight to the puritan protesters who are violently pursuing the liberal and risqué elements of Hollywood under the shadow and influence of the mysterious Carpenter. There's a brilliantly light-hearted feel to the undercover antics as Vera initially struggles to adapt to the rigours of her front as a housekeeper for the crotchety erotic film writer, Lew, winning her employer over with sheer determination and a heartwarming, aloof attitude. The playful side of things sits surprisingly well alongside the rather brutal crimefighting that Red One gets involved in and the stronger ideological argument at the centre of the wave of chaos hitting the Los Angeles streets. Dorison and the Dodson's manage to sell Red One as a hero in peak physical condition once again and bring the supporting cast around her so that when the ante gets raised late in the game and the drama really unfolds, it really, truly counts. It looks great, it reads terrifically well and I want more! Which is where the only problem raises its head, because this is essentially a European format book broken down into an American format, these two issues make up this first ‘arc’, and that leaves us waiting until 2016 for the creative team to get the second volume onto shelves and provide us a resolution to a darn fine cliffhanger. I understand the decision, I’ll be back in a year’s time, but we’ve all seen books suffer due to breaks, delays and hiatuses and I just have to hope that Red One doesn’t follow that trend. 9/10

MULTIVERSITY #2
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Dan Brown, Jason Wright, Blond
DC Comics $5.99

James R: For the most part, I've loved Multiversity - the linked, 'one-shot' nature of the stories has kept Grant Morrison focused (and remember: a focused Grant Morrison is a good Grant Morrison!) and he's clearly had fun riffing on his beloved DC characters. This final chapter is a fine book in its own right, but after some of the dazzling heights the series has reached, it seemed a little conventional. In one way, perhaps that's what Morrison is saying about superhero books - on the first page he notes 'The story goes on with or without you' - these stories represent a never-ending Manichean conflict between light and dark. But it would have been nice if he could have come up with some new device beyond 'the multiverse heroes win through teaming up’. There is a novel touch as the villain of the piece is revealed as a malevolent force for whom the conflict we've read is just a trivial matter, but still, I couldn't help but feel I'd read this before. The art from Ivan Reis rises up to the challenge of illustrating Morrison's eye-popping ideas, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy reading it, but following on from Pax Americana and Mastermen, this felt more like a coda than a crescendo. 7/10

OUTCAST #8
Writer: Robert Kirman
Art: Paul Azaceta & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image/Skybound $2.99

Matt C: I do feel that the narrative in this book isn’t quite as tightly controlled as it could be, its focus lacking on occasion, but there’s just something about it that brings me back issue after issue. Take this issue’s cover for example. A deceptively simple image that is actually incredibly potent and completely magnetic. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colouring comes heavily into play here, creating a neon glow bursting through the rain against the shadows, holding the attention the way that the best covers do. Inside, it’s no different. Azaceta’s art has a truthful emotion (those mini-panels have proven to be immensely effective) and Breitweiser’s hues and shading never ignore the inherent darkness at the centre of the plot. Kirkman’s character work is full of depth and believability too, and all these elements add up to an experience that I’d need to go back to over and over again, regardless of the genre the story placed itself in. That aspect is the least forceful at the moment but not to the overall detriment of the end product, and anyone who looks at this and assumes this series was just a way to get another TV series greenlit is unenviably clueless. 8/10

SUPERMAN #40
Writer: John Romita Jr
Art: John Romita Jr, Klaus Janson & Dean White
DC Comics $3.99

James R: A few years ago, I remember reading that the problem with Superman is that to give him a genuine sense of threat you had to introduce an antagonist who is as powerful as him, or you need to limit his powers. John Romita Jr. has a blast here telling us an (almost) stand-alone story as the Man of Steel comes to terms with his powers being lessened, tested by the Justice League, and then being taken out for beers by them! If you rolled your eyes at that sentence, then this issue wouldn't be for you, but I really enjoyed it. Romita Jr. shows a great understanding of Superman - a being with such an unshakeable moral compass, but yet still somehow naive at times. Given that DC - and their movies - are often criticised for being too dark, this issue of Superman was a fresh and welcome take on the Kryptonian Boy Scout. I'm not sure how well the 'outed' storyline previewed in the FCBD issue will play out at the moment - it feels like a story I've read often before (and I know that's tricky with a character who has 75 years of continuous publication) - but I'm still happy I started picking Superman up again. It's a nice monthly reminder of what made me fall in love with comics as a kid. 8/10

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