17 May 2015

Mini Reviews 17/05/2015

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.

INJECTION #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: I think there's a special talent to creating a stellar first issue. There are lots of different ways to do it, but I think it's utterly essential. Creative teams can hit the ground running (as with Black Science) or you can tease the readers with hints of what's to come (pretty much all of Jonathan Hickman's output!). I think if you don't set down a marker with your opening chapter, then I'm far less likely to come back for issue #2. With Injection, Warren Ellis shows us exactly how it's done. This remarkable comic takes us to a clandestine Britain, where ancient forces are being harnessed by… well, something. Ellis goes for the 'tease' option, and it pays off - I immediately want to know more about Robin Morel, Maria Kilbride, the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, and the Ministry of Time & Measurement. Ellis knows how to marry up dark magical forces with secret services (see Strange Kisses and Gravel) but this book has an almost ethereal and mysterious quality to it. The art from Shalvey and Bellaire beautifully captures the British landscape, and by the final page I was desperate to read more. I immediately reread it, which still stands as my gold standard for great comics - and this most certainly has the potential to be magnificent. 9/10

Matt C: Well, Ellis isn’t making it easy for us, as there’s a whole lot of tease and mystery contained within this comic, so much so that I’d be hard pressed to give you a concise summary beyond that it deals with secret agencies dabbling in things beyond our understanding – standard Ellis material in other words! But, while it doesn’t lay all of its cards out on the table (far from it!) it’s so well done that it immediately has you eager for more. Which is good, especially as Ellis seems to be on a more reliable release schedule these days. Shalvey and Bellaire convert Ellis’ script into something both intimate, unnerving and powerful (as they did on their recent Moon Knight collaboration) and all in all it’s rather pleasing to see the revered writer back in his comic book groove again. 8/10

Stewart R: There's usually a bit of buzz surrounding new comic book efforts from Warren Ellis, but following the ‘reforming of the band’ with Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire after their lauded run (arc?) on Marvel’s Moon Knight there’s been something of an excited push regarding Injection. And it’s certainly a solid start with plenty of mystery, some snappy, intriguing dialogue and a great line in understated, restrained illustration from Shalvey and Bellaire. That said, I’m an occasional reader of Ellis’ work and know that he has a unique writing style that can throw up hurdles to new, and even seasoned readers, and this runs the line closely. We’re thrown plenty of acronyms and some exposition regarding apparent corporate and government departments dealing with ‘projects’ (assumed to be supernatural/unexplained science at this stage) through a then/now narrative with plenty of suggestion that something damn crazy happened between past and present times. Yet nothing solid materialises at this early stage. To that end this is similar to Ellis’ other recent Image series, Supreme: Blue Rose which to me revelled in the confusion it spawned, but importantly Injection feels more accessible, or at least that it promises to become more accessible in the near future and if you’re looking for plenty of raised questions from a debut, Injection could be for you. 7/10

SECRET WARS #2
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: Well, this was unexpected, to say the least! The opening issue was essentially moving things into a place where the storyline from Avengers and New Avengers could transform into something on an even epic more scale, but this second instalment takes any expectations and kicks them into the stratosphere. We’re finally introduced to Battleworld, and it’s ruler, God Emperor Doom (oh yes!), who’s remade the world in his own image, and it’s goddamn incredible. This is Jonathan Hickman’s imagination firing on all cylinders, his many months spent crafting a complex, compelling narrative finally hitting a point where he can cut loose and create something bold, inventive and exciting. This initially seems like a kind of Elseworlds tale with a lot of brilliant, creative twists applied to recognisable characters, and Hickman could easily have coasted along with that to some success, until you realise that he’s playing a far grander game when certain other characters enter the mix. Ribic’s artwork is grandiose, even more so when daubed with Svorcina’s intoxicating colour schemes, and the imagery is easily a match for Hickman’s narrative ambition. A stunning comic – if all event books from the Big Two were like this we’d be approaching them with rabid anticipation rather than eye-rolling cynicism. The new gold standard. 10/10

James R: Now, I don't want to review Marvel's big event by wailing on DC as, trust me, I wish DC would up their game and start to invest their events with a little more forethought and intelligence. But, when I compare Secret Wars to Convergence, there is simply no contest. With this second issue, Hickman does something fantastic - having shown us in the previous instalment that Doctor Doom is the only mortal who can go toe-to-toe with the Beyonders (of course!) we see what the results of that ambition are. The chapter, entitled 'Doom Messiah', introduces us to Battleworld, wherein the remnants of the multiverse are pitted against each other by a malevolent Doom. As with the last chapter, it is huge in scale and looks utterly lush - once again, Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina are doing the best work of their careers to date here. If I have to offer up any criticism, it's that the spin-off titles seem totally superfluous - Hickman's story here seems plenty on its own. I also think it would be utterly bewildering to anyone who hasn't read Hickman's Avengers run, but I imagine the vast majority of the readership of this book will have done that anyway! Epic, unexpected, and a joy to read - certainly the best 'event' title I've read in a long time. 8/10

CHRONONAUTS #3
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Sean Gordon Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
Image $3.50

Matt C: My esteemed reviewing colleagues, Stewart R and James R, have previously commented on how it’s difficult to enjoy a book featuring such unlikable protagonists. Part of me kind of likes that the two leads are such bastards though, as there’s something vicariously appealing watching someone make all the wrong choices, repeatedly. On the other hand, there seems to be an almost cavalier disregard of temporal logic from both the main characters and the writer here. Millar seems to ignore the standard science fictional theories of time travel – messing about in the past messes up the future – which is fine if he actually offered up some sort of alternative. Which he doesn’t. And as such, it all starts to come across as a sort of work-in-progress, half-formed and in need of much rewriting. The art is beyond reproach but with one issue to go I can’t see this being anything other than one of Millar’s lesser works. 5/10

Stewart R: It’s genuinely difficult to see just what Mark Millar is hoping to gain from ‘writing’ this series. Unlike his other projects this has barely any story to it other than a couple of scientists piss about in the timestream and go on the lam in double quick time when it starts to go wrong, the forces brought in to deal with their antics clearly not understanding the term ‘collateral damage’. But why should they when there's clearly no repercussions to anyone's actions within the plot? Usually we tend to see Millar scripting his comic book properties with a clear transition to the big screen in mind, but the contents of the three issues to date would easily be over and done with in 45 minutes or less and we’d be using the term ‘characters’ very loosely. In this penultimate chapter we get an extended, chaotic chase sequence as the two fugitives hop across the land and timescape, interacting with various periods of historical note along the way. It is quite brilliantly depicted by Murphy as you might expect, and there are a few laughs to be had along the way, but Chrononauts feels very Michael Bay in its leaning hard on style over substance and I’m only realistically picking it up for the art at this point. 4/10

C.O.W.L. #10
Writer: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel
Art:Rod Reis
Image $3.99

James R: "You may or may not have already heard - issue 11 will be the series' last." - Kyle Higgins, in 'Union Dues', the C.O.W.L. letters page. NNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NO! NO! As I write this, my bottom lip is wobbling uncontrollably, and my keyboard is damp from my salty tears. Dammit. This is like a particularly painful break-up for me - having fallen head-over-heels in love with this magnificent book, it's now walking out of my life, leaving me heartbroken. My one crumb of comfort is that Higgins has not ruled out a return to the C.O.W.L. universe, and that the creative team are working on something new. But in the meantime, I can only salute the work of Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis - this book has oozed class, intelligence and still, with one issue left, it continues to work in terrific narrative twists and turns. I can't think of many comic series that have managed to inspire a very good jazz album, and it's been one of the shining examples of just how good mainstream comics can be. Whatever the creative team are working on next, don't leave us hanging too long gentlemen - I'll be crying in my bedroom writing poor-quality poetry in the meantime! 9/10

THOR #8
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: It’s here! The big reveal! And to give Aaron his credit, he’s crafted the mystery surrounding the new Thor’s identity incredibly well indeed through seven issues, whilst bringing the Roxxon alliance with Malekith into prominent view and also delving into the internal conflicts threatening to tear Asgard apart. These plot threads have helped shift focus away from the subject of Thor’s identity from time to time and delivered an enthralling read as a result. Here, in the eighth and final issue we get a grand scale battle as the Odinson brings a myriad of known female warriors to bear arms against the Destroyer armour which threatens to kill Thor in order to return Mjolnir to Odin. Dauterman has produced exquisite work through this series and he delivers some of his finest in this issue as things come to a head. As the dust settles Aaron then throws us a curveball which is delicious in its inception and execution and has me cursing the onset of Secret Wars and the ending of this series which feels premature in its demise/hiatus/transition considering the skill and craft that has gone in date. 9/10

BIRTHRIGHT #7
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas
Image/Skybound $2.99

Matt C: It’s the strength of the characterization that makes this one of my favourite books on the stands at the moment. Obviously the unpredictable plotting and the slick, dynamic visuals are enormously strong plus points, but it’s the interactions between the cast that really hit the spot for me. Williamson brings an effective sense of authenticity to the proceedings so that it’s impossible not to care about his characters, even if some have less than pure motives at heart. If you pitched this storyline to me blind, with its emphasis on a fantasy realm full of monsters and sword-wielding heroes, I’d probably not have too much of a flicker of interest. Sitting down and reading the actual books changes all that because it plays against expectations, and now I’m completely smitten. 8/10

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