5 Jul 2015

Mini Reviews 05/07/2015

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.

WE STAND ON GUARD #1
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Steve Skorce & Matt Hollingsworth
Image $2.99

Matt C: Brian K. Vaughan is a master of the provocative, exhilarating debut issue. Y: The Last Man. The Private Eye. Saga. Even Ex Machina, a series that I eventually lost patience with, had a shockingly brilliant opener. So, We Stand On Guard #1 must dazzle like the aforementioned, right? Well, no, not exactly. It’s set a hundred odd years in the future where, for reasons unknown, the USA went to war with Canada, and now a young woman who watched her parents die in the initial attack hooks up with some freedom fighters in the snowy Canadian wilderness. It’s a neat set up, if not particularly original, but Vaughan’s usual knack of great dialogue and astute characterization seems to have been turned down a few notches, edging closer towards stereotypes than expected. Long-time comics absentee Steve Skroce turns in some artwork that is undeniably masterful and well composed but feels like it lacks fluidity, and thus, momentum. Usually I’m totally onboard by the final page of Vaughan debut issue. This time I’m not sure at all, with the $2.99 price tag perhaps having more sway over whether I’m back for the sophomore instalment than it should. 6/10

James R: This book should be a solid smash: Brian K. Vaughn is a brilliant writer, Steve Skroce is a renowned artist, and 'America and Canada at war' is a great idea. Unfortunately though, for me, We Stand On Guard #1 was less than the sum of its parts. Starting out with an almost-comical opening - which was horrifically clich├ęd ("Look after your baby sister!") - and then revealing a bland group of protagonists, I felt like I'd read all this before. It's very possible that it might kick into gear in the coming issues, but seeing that jaw-dropping openings are a speciality of Brian K. Vaughn (see both Y: The Last Man and The Private Eye for examples) the fact that this was such an underwhelming read doesn't bode well. I'm waving my white flag over this conflict, and it's a definite surprise to read such a flat book from such a talented team. 4/10

BROKEN WORLD #2
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere
Art: Christopher Peterson & Marissa Louise
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: So when the dust settles from that canny plot twist cliffhanger in issue #1 it seems we end up with something of a muted and understated 'those left behind' story where the remaining population face an uncertain future. I like the way that Barbiere sells this world with a feeling of sensible realism; those of faith taking to a period of reflection - albeit with some elements taking a fanatical stance – and those of a more militaristic, logistical mindset looking towards the troubled times ahead, while the pragmatic loners and stragglers make vague plans while struggling to let their past lives go. Barbiere brings in elements such as looting and random standoffs, but holds back from the shootouts and bloodshed that usually goes hand-in-hand with such events. This really does feel like an emptier world where trouble may only find you if you went looking for it and, as such, it seems as if Elena might well be on that dangerous path in her attempts to be reunited with her family. The art's solid with Peterson and Louise doing a particularly fine job differentiating the flashback periods with a palette of blues and fuzzier line work to make them genuinely feel like memories. Broken World is a reflective look at the end of times and what follows after, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. 8/10

SECRET WARS #4
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

James R: Well, this is a proper event. At the halfway point, Jonathan Hickman has fully paid off the epic (and apocalyptic) New Avengers storyline, and now the scene is set for what has to be an Earth-shaking conclusion to Secret Wars. With big event books of the recent past, there's either a few chapters that feel half-baked, or the narrative is spread so thinly across tie-in books that the main thrust is lost. With Secret Wars though, there's been none of this - it's been totally compelling, and for an old-school fanboy, utterly entertaining. The masterstroke from Hickman has been to place Doctor Doom front and centre. Doom has always been a brilliant character, and Hickman writes him to perfection - a man with the arrogance to want omnipotence, yet filled with a very human jealousy towards his nemesis, Reed Richards. Once again, it's illustrated beautifully by Ribic and Svorcina - Battleworld has a bewitching, dream-like quality to it, and it's a treat for the eyes. Having seen Marvel's slate for October, there's only a couple of books that grab my interest, but following this huge, ambitious run from Hickman, it's going to be a tough act to follow. 9/10

Matt C: Halfway through and still leagues ahead of any other event book we’ve seen in a good long while. Can Hickman make it through to the conclusion without taking a stumble? Based on what we’ve seen so far, I see no reason why he won’t. This issue gives itself over mostly to Doom and we see that, even with Godlike power, petty jealousies can still gnaw away at him, particularly when Reed Richards is involved. It’s been said here numerous times in the past few years that Hickman has an impressive grasp of what makes the Latervian Monarch tick, and this is pretty much a tour de force of Doom barely keeping his rampant ego in check. Also of note is how well Hickman handles Valeria, and during his tenure at Marvel he’s done much to make her into the rounded, fascinating individual she is now. There are some shocking, unexpected moments in this issue, but they all serve the story and the characters, and aren’t merely there for shock’s sake, and it would go without saying that they’re rendered with epic, emotional intensity by Ribic and Svorcina if it wasn’t worth saying it every damn time. I can easily handle the slight delays this book is experiencing because, when it finally arrives, it truly delivers the goods. 9/10

AIRBOY #2
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Greg Hinkle
Image $2.99

Matt C: I’m not going to engage with controversy that’s swirled around this issue since its release head on as, while valid points are being made on both sides of the argument, it does feel to me like a case of shooting at the wrong target (which seems to be something of a trend in cultural commentary at the moment, but that’s another story). If you want to get riled up there are plenty of reviews that are jumping on that bandwagon; instead I’m going to note that while this is indeed a wilfully offensive exercise in self-loathing, it avoids being relentlessly unpleasant thanks to an acute self awareness and an absolutely ribald sense of humour. Some of it may be ‘wrong’ in some people’s eyes, but the main targets for satirical derision are Robinson and Hinkle themselves as they paint themselves in a light which, if you were to call it unflattering, would be a massive understatement! It employs the classic ‘man out of time’ comic trope to remind us that, while sometimes it may not seem like it, attitudes have come a long, long way in the past 60 or so years. It’s gonzo comics at their finest, and while that may not be palatable for some, there’s no malice at its core, and it remains a thrillingly unhinged read. 9/10

James R: Following the eye-popping first issue of Bacchanalian excess, Airboy's second issue comes with a wave of controversy. I won't recap that here but I will say that all good art should challenge the audience, cause debate and discussion, and Airboy certainly does that. Robinson and Hinkle's world is the present day seen through the prism of Airboy's more naive eyes, and as such, the worst excesses of the creative team are purposefully amped up. Having brought Airboy into their world, the eponymous hero now seeks to return the favour, and it's clear that the next issue will see this book flourish as it juxtaposes the modern age with the fictional World War 2. It's worth noting how good Greg Hinkle's use of colour is  - Airboy himself leaps off the page against the monochromatic San Francisco, and the issue’s final pages hint at a drastic change for the next instalment. In total, it's a little rough around the edges, and a touch too heavy handed in places, but I can't think of another series that's startled me so much in 2015, and that's a hearty recommendation in my book. 8/10

1 comment:

Mongos Mad said...

I'm pretty new to the comic scene, this year, but it's amazing to have so much back catalogue to go through.
Every so often though I start a new one and "We Stand On Guard" looked perfect and I quickly grabbed issues 1 and 2. I concur that your reviews are spot on. It just lacks any heart depth or passion. What with the lack of dialogue the comic is finished before you've even started and you just go "meh!" especially when you get too many full image pages it just feels lazy. Shame as I was very excited about this.

When Southern Bastards, Ed Brubaker's noir stuff etc grab you after one page, I think two issues is a good enough try to find out it's not for me.

But I hear "Y The Last Man" & "The Private Eye" is where it's at. Which one do I start first?

Great site

Mike