24 May 2015

Mini Reviews 24/05/2015

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.

A-FORCE #1
Writers: Marguerite Bennett & G. Willow Wilson
Art: Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung, Laura Martin & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’m not punting on many of the Secret Wars/Battleworld books, but when the previews showed up and A-Force was graced with a Jim Cheung cover, I figured this may be one of the all-round higher quality books produced in the tie-in batch. I’m happy to say that I believe I was correct in that estimation as A-Force debuts with an entertaining script, intriguing premise, plenty of promise and damn fine visuals from the A-grade art team. Molina has proven before that he can be up there with the best illustrators for Marvel and he doesn’t disappoint here with an accomplished display that packs punches in both the action and emotional departments. Bennett and Wilson provide his pencils with a script that depicts an island protected by a sisterhood of heroes, initially peaceful by comparison to the cities of the ‘old Earth’, yet kept within the laws dictated by Doom. When those laws and the actions of the islands protectors come into conflict we get a full burst of emotion as the cast react to the judgement and punishment of one of their own. It really is strong stuff before we even get to the growing mysteries that seem set to crank the tension and stakes up higher next time around. I’ll also add that if you have only the vaguest idea of what Secret Wars is about, this book does a decent job of giving you an idea of the current status quo. 9/10

Matt C: This looked like it would be one of the highlights of all the Secret Wars spin-offs, a title that potentially had legs beyond the ending of the event, a series that could capitalise on the various shifts and fluctuations seen amongst the hardcore superhero fanbase over the last few years or so. It’s a shame to say, then, that A-Force #1 rarely rises above ‘passable’. For most of the time it seems to be invested in the whole Battleworld concepts, via a kind of Themyscira analogue, but at certain points it appears to forget it all completely, particularly noticeable thanks to some rather jarring dialogue. The art’s fine and it’s not badly written, it just falls straight into the trap of feeling utterly superfluous in the grand scheme of the Secret Wars storyline, and when the cliffhanger doesn’t really offer much indication that things will change on that count, it’s a case of one and done for me. 5/10

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: NUX & IMMORTAN JOE #1
Writer: George Miller, Nico Lathouris & Mark Sexton
Art: Mark Sexton, Leandro Fernandez, Riccardo Burchielli, Andrea Mutti & Michael Spicer
DC/Vertigo $4.99

James R: This week, the PCG had one of our regular movie outings to see Fury Road, and I'm sure I'm not speaking out of turn when I say it was one of those rare occasions where we all came out loving what we'd seen. By now I'm sure you’ve probably have seen it or at least read reviews elsewhere, but take my word for it: it's a visceral cinema experience that has to be seen on the big screen. Having loved the movie so much, I decided to take a gamble on the first of Vertigo's tie-in books. Over the last day or so, I have read articles that say that one of the great things about Fury Road is that nothing is explained - the audience is left to piece together backgrounds for themselves. I would agree with that sentiment, but I also think that the large, geeky side of me hungers and thirsts for more information when I see or read something I love. This book manages to sit nicely between explaining just how Nux came to be one of the War Boys, and how Immortan Joe became the tyrant of the Citadel without taking away too much mystique. It's not essential by any means, but if you want to prolong the petrol rush of Fury Road, you could do worse than to pick this up. 7/10

PLANET HULK #1
Writer: Sam Humphries & Greg Pak
Art: Marc Laming, Jordon Boyd, Takeshi Miyazawa & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: This was a late in the day gamble for me, having only been on my radar due to the awesome Mike Del Mundo cover. I’d spied a few preview pages of Steve Rogers and Devil Dinosaur engaging in gladiatorial madness and figured I’d stump up the cash. Unfortunately I sit here and feel that my five dollars could well have been spent better elsewhere. This is a very loose reimagining of a Planet Hulk ‘scenario’ within the Battleworld framework where Steve Rogers is the imprisoned warrior forced to engage in lethal combat for the entertainment of the populace. The ‘Hulk’ part comes in the shape of the gamma-irradiated denizens who make up that aforementioned populace, hiding within them the Red King actually being the bearded Red Hulk, while Bruce Banner’s Hulk persona is only introduced last minute. It all feels VERY forced, with Rogers cast as a barbaric version of the hero we know, his dialogue feeling incredibly out of place. Given a mission by Doom (well, Doom’s lackey, Stephen Strange) to kill the Red King in order to save Bucky seems to bring nothing new to the table and we just end up with him and Devil Dinosaur beating the hell out of irradiated beasts for little gain. The backup story from Pak regarding Amadeus Cho is a nice throwaway touch, if a little simplistic, and does little to bring the main story back from diving over the brink of ‘What If’ mediocrity. It looks nice and will likely have lots of things hitting other things, but that’s me done for now. 4/10

SECRET WARS: BATTLEWORLD #1
Writers: Joshua Williamson & Ed Brisson
Art: Mike Henderson, Scott Hepburn, Jordan Boyd & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It was more a creator-led decision to pick this up, but combing this with the additional disappointment of A-Force has me rethinking whether I should to allow any more of the Secret Wars spin-off titles onto my pull-list. There are near little touches to admire in the Williamson/Henderson short but it’s ultimately forgettable, although probably not as throwaway as the second, M.O.D.O.K.-centric tale, which I literally have forgotten already! Much as I love Hickman’s central Secret Wars miniseries, and kind of want to throw myself into more related titles because of that love, I’m not really seeing anything to convince me to stray outside of the main storyline. I’m not ruling everything out yet, but first week into the launch of the tie-ins and things aren’t looking especially promising. 5/10

THE FADE OUT #6
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.50

James R: Sometimes you can take greatness for granted. When creative people are so good on a regular basis, it becomes almost a reassuring presence, and one that becomes commonplace. So, I thought it was high time I gave this extraordinary book credit where due. There has not been a bad issue of The Fade Out yet - though to be fair, I would struggle to think of any Brubaker/Phillips collaboration that isn't exceptional. At this point, the series has really gone up another notch as the intrigue surrounding the murder of Valeria Somers grows darker still. Brubaker excels at stories featuring men horribly out of their depth, and his control here is masterful, as he balances the investigations of both Charlie and Gil, weaving in real faces of post-WW2 Hollywood. I loved seeing Dashiel Hammett's appearance - at a function Brubaker tells us was a real one. Incorporating historical figures can be a tricky task, but in The Fade Out it's achieved with aplomb. Sean Phillips' illustrations are a perfect fit for noir and crime - following the oversized Criminal special (currently my individual book of the year) I think his art is better than it's ever been - and that's saying something! The Fade Out rightfully appeared in our collective best books list this week, but for me, it should be much higher - this is two great creative forces working in perfect harmony and producing one of the finest comics of decade. 9/10

Matt C: Another instalment of pulp, noirish, jazz-infused brilliance as various characters find themselves getting more tangled up in perilous situations, the lure of danger countering their better judgement. My fascination with this era remains unabated; it was an age when criminals mixed it up with the brightest stars, when having money could help cover up the darkest of secrets. Brubaker weaves something familiar but vital, focusing on fictional characters but blending in real historical figures, lending the proceedings an authenticity and believability. Phillips is a as adept as ever at conjuring the smoky, lurid environs of both the pre-‘50s criminal underworld and what sits just beyond its borders, and Breitwesier’s colour scheme has me thinking, if colour film had been more prevalent in this period, this is how it would look. Add in another fine Hollywood history themed article from Devin Faraci and you have one of the best comic book packages on the market. 8/10

LETTER 44 #16
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque & Dan Jackson
Oni Press $3.99

Stewart R: What I really enjoy about Charles Soule’s Letter 44 is that what could have simply been an ‘us vs them’ style science fiction story has instead left the alien ‘them’ as mysterious, enigmatic entities with a still unknown plan or motive, while the ‘us’ of the human civilisation tears itself apart in fear and frenzied opportunity to grab for power under a supposed looming threat. What Soule has done particularly well is to keep the lack of understanding between the manned mission to the asteroid belt and their hosts very real and palpable as they witness the chaos unfolding back on Earth from their elevated and isolated position. Commendable too is the way in which he’s made the small interactions between the President and his various close cast important in the far larger and grander scheme of war enveloping the globe. Okay, so a punch up here might be regarded as a touch ‘Hollywood’ for the sake of it, but it’s brilliantly punctuated by Soule and Albuquerque working in tandem to show that nothing is running on rails here and the unexpected can come from anywhere. Letter 44 missed out on our recent collective Top 15 and having voted for it myself and witnessed the consistent quality put into this book month after month, it’ll surely be a contender when we vote again in future. 9/10

THE TITHE #2
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Artists: Rahsan Ekedal & Mike Spicer
Image $3.99

James R: The second issue of Matt Hawkins theological-driven heist tale is very much 'steady as she goes'. Last month, I was immediately won over by this book, and once again, Hawkins gives us a tale that's both smart and compelling. The Samaritans perform their next heist with the FBI still playing catch-up. But who are the Samaritans? This issue introduces us to the principled perps and shows that they may not be an entirely harmonious crew. The plot is still a great hook, and I sense that Hawkins is getting ready to take it up a notch as the investigative team of Campbell and Howard inevitably cross paths with the Samaritans. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the characters are a little flat at the moment, but I'm giving Hawkins the benefit of the doubt as, given his track record, I sense he has a few surprises up his narrative sleeve. But it’s still a fine read, and book which entertains and educates is certainly worth my $3.99. 7/10

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