1 Jun 2015

Mini Reviews 31/05/2015

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.

MATERIAL #1
Writer: Ales Kot
Art: Will Tempest
Image $3.50

Matt C: A book of mostly talking head panels that tackles social, political, philosophical and cultural themes through its 25 pages? It’s fair to say Material won’t be for everyone, but if you find yourself engaging in the ideas Ales Kot tackles from the opening panel then it’s undeniably heady, thought-provoking stuff, both relevant and incisive, a constant stream of references running along the bottom of the page, highlighting the level of research and emphasising the depth of intelligence. It’s not clear how the four different plot threads are going to intertwine at this stage, but each of them are arresting in their own right, resulting in a comic that is profound, cerebral, emotional and, very possibly, important. 9/10

James R: "Digital dualism doesn't solve anything. Its choice of Hegelian nature-romanticism as our eternal saviour has already been proven a failure by Schopenhauer."   Amazingly, this isn't taken from the latest issue of Lobo, but from the very first page of Ales Kot's new series, Material. Kot isn't a writer who is afraid to challenge his audience, and he wears his intellectual influences on his sleeve (or in this comic, at the bottom of each page, footnote style) and in this first issue he wastes no time in wrestling with some huge philosophical themes. As a man with a philosophical background, I totally respect what Kot is doing here, and I'm drawn to comics like this as a moth is to a flame. (And I’ll also have to say that the quote and the subsequent exchange at the start of the review is absolutely typical of so many philosophy lectures I've sat in, so kudos to Kot there!) In this issue, we're introduced to four seemingly-unrelated plots concerning a university lecturer, a film star and director starting a new project, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, and a young victim of police brutality. It's clear that Kot will do something interesting with these threads - anyone who has been reading Zero from the first issue will attest that his narratives are far from predictable - but the question here is how compelling that story will become. On the strength of this issue, it feels like Kot is using the book to educate and inform, but he also has to entertain as a storyteller. Material is nicely illustrated by Will Tempest in a suitably real-world, lo-fi way, and by the end of the issue I was certainly keen to read more.  A start rich with potential; let's see if it flourishes in the coming months. 7/10

SUICIDERS #4
Writer: Lee Bermejo
Art: Lee Bermejo & Matt Hollingsworth
DC/Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: Bermejo finally brings the Suiciders bloodsport to the fore here as he parallels the struggles and fortunes of both the beleaguered Saint and the mysterious, silent newcomer as they enter the ring in very different circumstances. As events outside of his immediate control transpire to end his reign and his life, it's a relief to spend a little time with the Saint who had been something of a pawn and simple plot point until now. As the blood and adrenaline flow inside the ring of death, Bermejo applies his artistic prowess to stir something in this reader to cheer for the champion a little, while at the same time witness something bestial and raw within the other 'protagonist' which has me wondering if he's destined to tread a truly tragic path. All of this plays alongside a tense and nervy thread as the petrified Benedict runs for his life, casting an unintentional wake of death as the secret he carries brings terrible forces after him. It's bleak, brutal, brilliant stuff. 9/10

INFINITY GAUNTLET #1
Writers: Gerry Duggan & Dustin Weaver
Art: Dustin Weaver
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It was Weaver’s art that was – excuse the pun – the main draw for picking up this series and he delivers the goods with some detailed, kinetic visuals. Fortunately the story’s pretty good too, the first Secret Wars tie-in I’ve read that’s indicated there are some interesting corners of the sandbox to play in outside the main series. I’m still not entirely sure how all this works in the context of Secret Wars itself – is the Thanos on the cover the same Thanos from the Cabal, for example – but this loose mix of Walking Dead survivalism and Annihilation Wave beasties was fairly exciting, with more than enough merit to convince me to return for round two. 7/10

INHUMANS: ATTILAN RISING #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: John Timms, Roberto Poggi & Frank D'Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I'm unlikely to concern myself with trying to tie all of the pieces of Battleworld into one, cohesive narrative so will avoid trying to understand why Marvel editorial have not taken the opportunity to give the Inhumans an entire country/continent to themselves. As before, New Attilan is essentially a suburb of Manhattan, governed by Medusa (alongside her duties with A-Force it would seem) and kept under the yoke of Doom lest power and rule be granted to another more willing and compliant. Away from New Attilan there are various NuHumans and fugitive royal family members attempting to fight Doom's will in an underground movement which is defying the boundaries set out by the omnipotent despot. This is Soule weaving the same multi-layered tapestry that he produced with Inhuman, in a slight 'What-If' fashion yes, yet seemingly giving nods to the direction he was following previously. The moving of the continuity goal posts allow for the return of a character which has me cheering inwardly upon the reveal and Soule puts the likes of Naja and Flint into the mix to further maintain the familiarity. On the artistic side I have to ask where the heck John Timms has been before now as this is an A-grade introduction to his work for me, ably accompanied by Poggi on inks and the ever reliable D'Armata on colours. If you've been following Inhuman before now, Attilan Rising, based on this early effort, could prove to be unmissable reading. 8/10

POSTAL #4
Writers: Matt Hawkins & Bryan Hill
Art: Isaac Goodhart & Betsy Gonia
Image $3.99

Stewart R: As we currently find ourselves in a Golden Age for television and, arguably, a Golden Age for Image as a publisher of original, creator-owned comics it's becoming a common occurrence to see a reading audience contemplate the adaptation of many of their monthly reads to the small screen. I've certainly pondered on this topic, but when it comes to Postal I could really see it happen. Hawkins and Hill have an intriguing character at the centre of their gritty, grim crime story and a very strong support cast. Following an issue in which nearly everyone had their weaknesses exposed or found themselves beaten down in some shape or form, the writers have them all bounce back in their own way, turning the tables in some instances, digging deep in others and with Mark, utilising his inherent skills and personality traits to start to shape the chaotic world of individuals around him into something more ordered and manageable. The politics in play make everything murky and unpredictable and while the true motives are, in general, hard to spot in Postal's plot, it's Hawkins and Hill's depiction of Mark which really brings the unpredictability to the table. 8/10

PROVIDENCE #1
Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows & Juan Rodriguez
Avatar $3.99

James R: It's a new Alan Moore comic, so you're damn right I'm picking it up! Providence was marketed as a series based on the life and work of HP Lovecraft, but in fact this first issue is something else entirely. It soon becomes clear that story is taking place on an alternative Earth in 1919. One of the central plot elements concerns a mysterious man choosing to end his life in a euthanasia/suicide room, dubbed the 'Exit Gardens'. What's fascinating here is that the characters in Providence discuss Robert Chamber's The King In Yellow, a real book which also features the Exit Gardens. That book is notable as it played a central role in HBO's superb first series of True Detective (and, interestingly, so did Alan Moore, with writer Nic Pizolatto admitting Moore was an influence and borrowing from an issue of Moore's series Top 10 for the climatic scene). The King In Yellow within Chamber's book is itself, a book-within-a-book (stay with me here!), a text which drives those who read it to insanity. So, within Providence, we also find the fictitious text of the King In Yellow, and Moore places a sense of dread significance on it here, as we're also introduced to journalist Robert Black, the protagonist of this tale. As with Neonomicon (Moore's earlier Lovecraft-influenced comic) this is a wonderfully creepy and intricate book and, as with Neonomicon, there's the distinct feeling that Moore is messing with your mind. Once again, Jacen Burrows is a perfect foil for Moore's script, illustrating this alternate 1919 with cool precision and detail. An absolutely engrossing first issue, and proof, if any were needed, that Alan Moore is still the master of this medium. 8/10

Matt C: This is apparently both a sequel and prequel to Moore and Burrows previous collaboration, the exquisitely unnerving Neonomicon, but there’s nothing in this debut issue that suggests knowledge of that series, or indeed the work of HP Lovecraft, is essential - it’s a powerful and intoxicating read to grip in its own right. And it does so very steadily, with an almost sedate pace, allowing the subtleties of both the script and art to sink in and percolate.  There’s a lot to absorb, which includes the prose back-up, and the confidence on display is quite exhilarating even if there’s not much in the way of ‘horror’ in evidence at this stage. Moore has alluded in the past that he was quitting comics, only to return with something new not long after making such statements, and while not all of his recent work has matched up to his revered classics, when you get a comic book that possesses the quality displayed in Providence #1, you find yourself damn grateful that the old master has stuck around for a while longer. 8/10

DEADLY CLASS #13
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge
Image $3.50

Stewart R: What's really delightful about Rick Remender's work with Deadly Class is that he feels free to shift the focus around his cast of young killers at will. This arc, while starting out as a glimpse into the fickle teenage mind of Marcus as he’s flitted between the affections of Saya and Maria, has shifted into a proper study of the horrendous events that led Maria to become an adolescent assassin and how her search for vengeance has unleashed additional chaos upon her friends. Early on in this series Maria was just a side note, the apparent distraction to keep Marcus from falling straight into the arms of Saya, yet here we are with her, 13 chapters done and dusted, and she's clearly formed the emotional heart of this book these past five-to-six issues while Marcus' gaze and constitution has wavered wildly. The love triangle has complimented the palpable tension of bullet storms, knife fights and crazy car chases incredibly well with things reaching an electric crescendo here. It's followed by a starker, quieter, emptier sigh of relief, a breath which hints at only further dread, danger and death to arrive in the lives of these wayward teenagers. The rather brilliant, bonkers thing is that it feels like we're only just in the early stages of the Deadly Class story. 9/10

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #3
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art Ramon Perez & Ian Herring
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This is developing very nicely indeed. In some senses, a smooth continuation of what Fraction et al established in the previous volume, in others, a pretty convincing display of another set of sensibilities at work. In other words, it follows from what’s come before but at the same time points towards a bright future.  Fraction’s version of Hawkeye was very hipster-cool, and while there’s definitely an element of that in Lemire’s version, he does bring the emotion to the fore, which, if you’re familiar with his work, is to be expected.  The emphasis in this issue is on the modern day setting, with the past mirroring the events in the present along the bottom of the pages (and I get the impression this will flip over next month), and in both cases Perez does some terrific work. Untouched by the hoopla of Secret Wars, All-New Hawkeye shows that Marvel is often at its best when it keeps things low-key and stripped back. 8/10

DIVINITY #4
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn & David Baron
Valiant Entertainment $3.99

Stewart R: The back cover and two inside cover pages are perfect examples of artistic subtlety - hold them in the right light and you can just make out the line work of Trevor Hairsine depicting moments from this series. That sentiment can also be applied to the way in which Kindt has written this four-part origin story, which has had flashes of a superhero book but under the glossy surface has provided something a little more cerebral. We've followed Abram Adams path from secret Soviet talisman and even more secret role as lover and future father, through to a life changing encounter which has bestowed great power upon him, yet left him questioning what he should do with it considering the sacrifices he's had to make. Kindt, at every step, has had Abram contemplate the man he was and if he's even human now, the strange tragedy of his life forming the crux of the plot and his motive for returning to Earth. When Kindt has brought the Unity team into play it's been done with determination and to make Divinity's actions and discoveries carry greater weight; the method in which the likes of Ninjak and the Eternal Warrior are contained proving rather ingenious along with the way in which the heroes then overcome their predicament during the climax. The news that this creative team will reform for a sequel series in 2016 indicates for the uninitiated that this culminates in something of an open-ended conclusion and a fine, open-ended finale (and beginning to the Divinity story) this is too! 8/10

IRON FIST: THE LIVING WEAPON #12
Writer: Kaare Kyle Andrews
Art: Kaare Kyle Andrews
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: When first we met Kaare Andrews' version of Danny Rand, he appeared as a blunted, hollow shell; numbed and tarnished by his life choices. The Iron Fist was fallible, his powers finite and waning. From there he whisked us through a captivating journey of Danny's past and present life, dealing with the incessant, lingering grief which left him impotent when his adopted home was destroyed by demons from his past, and steadily rebuilding his understanding of the world around him and faith in his powers. This last issue deals with the aftermath from the grand showdown that loomed large and dark above Manhattan in #11, Andrews allowing us some time with the Iron Fist we expected to see when we opened up the cover of #1. Things are on the upturn for Danny and in epilogic fashion this fine writer/artist resets certain plot threads while leaving some tantalizing possibilities ahead should Marvel (and hopefully Andrews) wish to pursue them in any subsequent project. There's a very neat, emotional twist in the tale which, while not entirely surprising or necessarily original, needed addressing and definitely adds an extra element of drama to proceedings. Importantly it offers some closure on what has been a high calibre maxi-series from a very talented comic book creator. Marvel, can we have more like this please!! 9/10

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