17 Aug 2015

Mini Reviews 16/08/2015

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.

Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows & Juan Rodriguez
Avatar $4.99

James R: It might seem strange to heartily recommend a book which I can best describe as 'unsettling', but after yet another remarkable issue, it's clear than Alan Moore is in a rich vein of form with Providence, and whereas it might not fulfil everyone's definition of horror, this is a title that lingers long in the imagination. With this issue, Moore captures the lucid and bizarre logic of a dream perfectly. Robert Black has made his way to Salem, and in keeping with the tone of the series so far, his journey is filled with a sense of unease that's palpable. So far, Moore has drawn parallels between the unconscious with the hidden depths that are the home to the 'Elder Gods', and in this issue, he goes one step further, filling Black's dreams with motifs of the Holocaust. Even though the world of Providence is an alternative reality, and our story is set in the 1920s, Moore explores the notion that our worst ideas exist as Jungian archetypes within our subconscious. Even when Black awakes, the comic continues at an utterly absorbing pace, and the creeping sense of impending doom makes this a remarkable read. Once again, Jacen Burrows is a perfect fit for Moore's Lovecraftian tales - both his panel compositions, and his depictions of the strange residents of Salem, are utterly creepy. As if this wasn't enough, Moore's attention to detail with the issue's backmatter is further evidence that his gift for narration and world-building remains undiminished. Given how this book was marketed in Previews, I am amazed at how far it differs from what was hinted at - and long may it continue! It's great to see the master is still at work. 9/10

Matt C: If you like your stories to get where they’re going pretty fast then Providence won’t be for you as this is a masterclass in simmering, slow-burning tension. Journalist Robert Black’s journey (both in the physical and spiritual sense) into early 20th century New England becomes more surreal with each page, blending swastikas, weirdly aquatic-looking townsfolk, possibly prophetic dreams, and some supernatural strangeness on the periphery, always threatening to break into full view at any moment. Burrows’ art is detailed, exacting and shot through with a realism that makes those moments when unexplained things occur all the more disconcerting. Moore is firing on all cylinders, the backmatter (excerpts from Black’s diary and pamphlets he’s acquired) opening up the tale on levels that would remain untouched if he’d approached the subject more traditionally. Signs still point to this being a Moore classic. 8/10

Writer: Randy Stradley
Art: Doug Wheatley & Rain Bredo
Dark Horse $3.99

Stewart R: I'm happy to admit that I was lured into purchasing this purely by the art from Wheatley and Bredo alone. It's a truly gorgeous comic book to look at from cover to cover, to the point where I'm surprised to be seeing Wheatley's work for the very first time. There are Las Vegas kidnappings depicted in fine detail alongside stunning conversation pieces around a kitchen table which precede some terrific, supernatural monster shenanigans. Both artists really do pull out the stops to provide a premium, polished product. So that's the visuals, but what about the story and script? Well, that's certainly the weaker aspect of King Tiger, but that is mostly down to the fact that this miniseries has spun out of a feature in Blackout #4 which leaves the new reader to be dropped straight into the aftermath of that piece with early dialogue running that line of clinched, introductory exposition which is an unfortunate necessity. Surrounding that though is a generally intriguing, if quite basic, trap set-up which oozes mystical creepiness - boosted of course by the superb expression work from Wheatley in his depiction of the terror on the victims faces - and has you wondering about King Tiger's powers in the face of such threat come the final page. Certainly hamstrung a touch by the stilted introduction, but the potential with King Tiger is clear to see. 7/10

Writer: Bradford Winters & Larry Cohen
Art: Daniel Irizarri & Matt Battaglia
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: It’s a great central premise. Something has befallen the United States of America and now thousands are illegally fleeing its borders, hoping to set up new lives in the ‘Americatowns’ that are springing up in cities across the globe. That’s mostly from the solicitation spiel because you don’t get a lot in the way of solid scene-setting in this debut issue, which is not a guaranteed problem in itself, but if you’re defining a concept as grand of this then you should at least reveal something more of the world the story will be operating in. There is some groundwork being laid for the characters but there’s an additional problem in the way the narrative flows from panel to panel – it’s disjointed and doesn’t hold together tightly, which is either down to the art or writers inexperienced in telling a story in this medium. Either way, it’s a muddled opener that doesn’t make a particularly decent stab at establishing itself or offering a strong cliffhanger. The great central premise falls flat due to lacklustre execution. 5/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Svorcina
Marvel $3.99

James R: So far, the main Secret Wars book has surpassed expectations. Jonathan Hickman absolutely understands the character of Victor Von Doom, and utilises him perfectly - he is a tragic hero, the one man brave enough to stand up to the omnipotent Beyonders and salvage what remained of their apocalyptic destruction of the multiverse, yet simultaneously, he remains an unflinching despot. For we fans of Latveria's reigning monarch, Secret Wars has been a treat, but with issue #5, there's definitely a sense of inertia. The majority of the issue deals with Doom's response to Dr Strange's treachery in issue #4, and in conversing with the Molecule Man, we learn exactly how Battleworld was created. That's all fine, but those of us who had read New Avengers knew most of this stuff anyway, and Dr. Strange's conversation with the survivors of the 616 universe covered a lot of the same ground. It's not bad by any means, but for a sprawling eight-issue series, I felt that this was treading water. It looks utterly beautiful, and Esad Ribic further confirms his place as one of mainstream comics' A-list with each issue. In a standard series, this would have been a fine instalment, but given that each of the preceding issues were so great, this felt a little underwhelming. 7/10

Matt C: We’re halfway – sort of – so after the shock ending of the last episode we move into exposition territory as Doom hooks up with an old friend.  There’s still part of me that wonders how this is going to translate to people who didn’t pick up the Avengers and New Avengers issues that led up to this miniseries, but Hickman seems to lay it down pretty succinctly, and while there’s an awful lot of talk, it’s fascinating talk, all beautifully rendered by Ribic and Svorcina - at this stage of the game you expect the calm before the storm, and it’s been perfectly paced up to this point. On the flip side of explaining how we got here, Valeria (Richards?) gets moved up into the spotlight as she discovers what she’s being told doesn’t quite match up with the reality of what’s happening. An issue where the characterization rather than the action leads the way, and that’s certainly no bad thing in this case. 8/10

Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Bernard Chang & Marcelo Maiolo
Jet City Comics $2.99

Stewart R: Something of a confusing week for new titles with King Tiger from Dark Horse and then this, the singularly titled King from Joshua Hale Fialkov (The Bunker) and Bernard Chang (Green Lantern Corps). In this debut we get a protracted commute to work for the titular King as he cuts, thrusts and dodges his way across the sprawling and densely populated Los Angeles, but it's a very different City of Angels to that which we know today. Fialkov is telling us the first tale of the last man on Earth and as such this world is populated with a menagerie of weird and wonderful creatures, aliens and gods, some of whom seem to have it in for King, or at least have history with him. It's simply bonkers stuff that plops a smile on your face from the get-go and doesn't let it drop until you're disappointed to reach the final page and realise you've got a wait ahead of you for the craziness to continue. The dialogue is banter-rich while the narration offers a more philosophical tone which hints at darker times past and vague hope for the city's future. Chang and Maiolo form a strong artistic partnership to depict the chaotic scenes, Chang dropping in recognisable landmarks and the odd cult reference (that particular karate gi was a nice touch) whilst Maiolo coats many a page in a familiar West Coast haze of yellow and orange that surrounds the exotic denizens. A perfect, fun start and my Book of the Week nod and no mistake. 9/10

Writers: William Thomas & Andrew Anderson
Art: Osvaldo “Montos” Montpeller, Wes Hartman & Tony Galvan
Guardian Knight Comics $1.99

Matt C: It was the art that lured towards this debut issue from an unfamiliar publisher, and overall, it’s pretty strong. There are great character designs on display and a fairly potent sense of world-building felt through the course of the issue, even if some panel transitions are a tad confusing. Unfortunately the story of anthropomorphised pirates is a bit of a hodgepodge of fantasy tropes that never really sticks in the mind sufficiently. I hate to be down on new books from indie publishers but I read this one twice and it still came across as clich├ęd and unmemorable. 5/10

Writers: Greg Pak & Aaron Kuder
Art: Aaron Kuder & Tomeu Morey
DC  $3.99

James R: There's a great essay by Mark Waid called 'The Real Truth About Superman' - it's well worth tracking down, but in short, Waid argues that one of the reasons why Superman endures is because he reflects the people we could be - he is us at our best. I was reminded of this essay while reading the latest issue of Action Comics, as it's clear that Pak and Kuder share this ideal. As the underpowered Superman comes to realise that he can no longer defeat the shadow monster that's become endemic to Metropolis, he gathers his supporters and tells them from now, they are all Superman too. This isn't the first time that this idea has been used (Grant Morrison did it very literally in his JLA story 'World War 3') but in keeping with their arc, Pak and Kuder's feels more grounded. Given the ongoing controversy over race relations and the police in the States, it would be easy to say that a Superman story that sees him at odds with the police and City Hall could be seen as trite, but it's certainly not. I would also point to Siegel and Shuster's early issues of Action, in which Superman dealt with slum landlords and abusive husbands - this current run is totally in keeping with the first iteration of the Man of Steel. Given how utterly flaccid DC's books had become following the New 52, it warms my cold, cynical fanboy heart to see a creative team trying something different with comics' most iconic character - and it's a great read too. If you've been avoiding DC for a while, I'd certainly recommend you give Action Comics a try - Superman might be de-powered, but this book shows he's a strong as ever. 8/10

Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alex Maleev & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Essentially a chase issue, with Lando and co being pursued by what seems like excessive Imperial presence for what they assume to be the not-that-important luxury yacht they’ve hijacked. They’re unaware that it’s the personal property of Emperor Palpatine, and there’s something onboard that he wants back at any cost. Lando views the Imperial interest as a way to get hold of a higher fee, and uses his wiles to escape they’re clutches. There’s an infectious freewheeling vibe to the proceedings with Lando’s cavalier response to danger captured perfectly by Soule, while Maleev’s semi-photo-realistic illustrations and Mounts’s evocative hues make for a restrained but exciting visual experience.  Fast, fun and undeniably Star Wars. 8/10

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