21 Jun 2015

Mini Reviews 21/06/2015

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.

SQUADRON SINISTER #1
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Another Secret Wars tie-in that made it onto my pull-list and pretty swiftly convinced me it was worth sticking with for the duration. Without giving anyone a continuity headache, Squadron Sinister are a team of villains modelled on the Justice League, their more familiar heroic counterparts being Squadron Supreme, who were later given the ‘MAX’ treatment by J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank in Supreme Power. It all gets a bit confusing, even reading the various entries on Wikipedia! But anyway, here we have the Squadron Sinister in one of the Battleworld territories bumping off their various doppelgangers; they actually take on the Straczynski versions in the opening scene but there’s plenty of evidence they’ve been doing this for a while (there are even some neat nods to the JLA themselves). This has all be done without riling up Emperor God Doom, although an incident occurs that will soon change that. Guggenheim revels in bringing some dark, duplicitous charisma to these characters, and while it’s not the best work I’ve seen from Carlos Pacheco, anything from him is always of the highest quality, and to my mind he remains one of the most underrated artists of the modern age. We’ve seen villainous versions of Superman, Batman, Flash et al played out on numerous occasions across the years, but in this context – and in the same way that there’s still plenty of life in the JLA concept – there’s a pleasing amount of fiendish thrills to be found in Squadron Sinister #1. 8/10

MIND MGMT #34
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt
Dark Horse Comics $3.99

James R: Parting is such sweet sorrow. One of the few downsides to being a comics fan in my eyes is when a series that you love comes to an end. As you get closer and closer to the final farewell, every issue seems to carry an extra weight - a reminder of just why you loved the book in the first place. It's definitely the case with Mind MGMT - long-time PCG readers will know that this has been my favourite continuing series since its first arc, and there has never been a dip in quality or form from the inspirational creative dynamo that is Matt Kindt. I won't recap what happens within its pages as, by this point, any new readers would simply be bewildered - Kindt's story shifts the very nature of reality as you read (as an example, the new Mind Management lobby HQ is the set of a movie Salvador Dali was tricked into making, and then mind-adjusted to misremembering... see what I mean?!) It's a simply phenomenal reading experience, and a series that I know I'll return to again and again, such is the detail and invention at work here. It was almost impossible to pick a book of the week this time - suffice to say, if I could've had a second choice it would have been this. However, seeing that it's my book of the decade so far, I hope that's some consolation! Genius on every page, and essential reading. 10/10

EI8HT #5
Writers: Rafael Albuquerque & Mike Johnson
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Dark Horse $3.50

Stewart R: Things are brought to a head here as Johnson and Albuquerque have Joshua face off against The Spear in something of a surprisingly understated clash which plays out briefly and succinctly. If anything, it perhaps feels a little too sparse considering the threat The Spear poses, and his forces are relatively absent from the piece which robs some of the gravity from the situation. As the plot threads come back together towards the end, we're presented with something of an unexpected twist in the Ei8ht tale, which looks to the future, but at the same time leaves far too much left unexplained. Several of the characters spout lines about feeling connections with relative strangers, or having memories of events that haven't transpired yet, and everything just feels a touch loose and lacking an anchor point. As it turns out it seems that this creative team will be returning to provide those answers soon, but I'd have personally liked a little more closure to this initial arc than we got. 6/10

LAZARUS #17
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Tyler Boss & Santi Arcas
Image $3.50

James R: There's nothing new in what I'm going to say about my book of the week. Yet another incredible chapter from a pitch-perfect book? Check. Image comics as the current gold standard in comics? Check. Rucka, Larck and Arcas are a perfect combination? Check! However, I feel that these facts bear repeating. Seamlessly, this Lazarus has changed into a war story, and it's phenomenally good. As the Hock and Carlyle families engage in combat, Greg Rucka wastes no time in upping the stakes and the action, and I loved seeing the various plot strands from the previous sixteen issues begin to mesh together. Michael Lark's art is never less than fantastic, but he's in his element here, depicting the battle for Duluth with dynamic aplomb. As well as just being a cracking good read, there's a sense that Lazarus is a book that makes you smarter - Greg Rucka's response to the letters is an education in themselves, and I think it's a testament to how powerful a printed comic can be in this increasingly digital age. There's not a single aspect of this issue that's less than brilliant, and it deserves a flawless score. 10/10

Matt C: Michael Lark is a master of staging action sequences: through pacing, angle choices and panel compositions, he establishes his environments with confidence and realistic detail, the visually fluid kineticism that results from the transition from one panel to the next generating an exhilarating, hypnotic experience. And he reminds of all this within the first five pages of this issue! The rest of the page count reduces the violence but keeps the drama levels turned up to the 11 as the Carlyle family react to the possibility of losing the war against the Hocks. There’s the kind of intelligent world-building still going on here that just astounds in its depth and complexity. At its core remains Forever Carlyle, one of the most fascinating characters in comics in recent years: devoted, conflicted, honourable and believable, she continues to anchor the whole thing with genuine humanity, even though genetic tinkering means she’s one of the least ‘human’ members of the cast. Lazarus has been my favourite ongoing series pretty much since it debuted, and if the quality remains this high I can’t see it budging from the position. 10/10

LOW #7
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini
Image $3.50

Stewart R: After the initial whirlwind pace of the first arc which ended in explosive fashion, it feels a little strange to get back to the depressive state of Remender's Low world as mankind ekes out a seemingly doomed existence on a dying planet. Through those opening six issues it was Stel's burning hope and optimism that shone through and here, at the start of the next arc, it's noticeably absent as we're introduced to the icy city of Voldin, a place where inspiring or spreading false hope is a crime punishable by death. Not only does Remender do a fine job of showing us the brutality of the literal 'thought police' and those who would oppose them in secret, but he wraps Della's life in a brilliant ball of conflict as she spearheads Voldin's forces of Thought, yet lives a life in secret which clashes with the ideology of that which she represents. It's another fine portrayal of a character being crushed under the weight of their desires, responsibilities and actions and the tragic consequences that can result. It's once again superbly rendered by Tocchini who gets to play around in a very different landscape to what we have seen in this series so far and his visual flair makes Voldin an aesthetically intriguing prospect and Della's struggles compelling in their tragedy. 9/10

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour
Image $3.50

Matt C: While it’s great news to hear that FX are considering a Southern Bastards television series, let’s set all that aside (that’ll be its own thing, after all) and focus on what we have here. And what we have here is another outstanding issue of a phenomenal comic book series. At this stage, as another seemingly secondary character gets pulled into the spotlight, it’s not clear if there’s a main protagonist , as it’s becoming far more of an ensemble as it goes along (unexpected fatalities tend to create that kind of situation!), although my personal opinion is that we haven’t properly met the true protagonist of Southern Bastards yet. Ignoring speculation for the moment, this is a thoroughly compelling look at a compromised man, someone else who has come into Coach Boss’ orbit and suffered because of it. The script and art are on target, and if someone is cooking up a TV show based on this grizzled, badass comic, they’re going to have a hell of a lot to live up to! 9/10

James R: Recently, a good friend of mine asked me what books to start picking up. This was the first title that sprang to mind! I said it was still less than ten issues into its run, but has already been more inventive, intelligent and shocking than many books manage in one hundred issues. This week I got the pleasing feedback that Southern Bastards had been everything I'd promised - and issue #9 shows that, if anything, Aaron and Latour are taking it to even greater heights. This time the focus is on Sheriff Hardy, and how this one-time star of the Rebs has been manipulated and controlled by the darkly compelling figure of Coach Boss. The power here is in the brevity - in just twenty pages we gain an insight into Hardy's life, his disappointments and frustrations. It's masterful stuff, and it's wonderfully unpredictable. Picking my book of the week this week was unbelievably tough, and it's a sign of how many great series are being published at the moment. Everyone needs a few bastards in their lives to keep things interesting, and I strongly urge you to embrace this Southern darkness immediately. 9/10

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