13 Sep 2015

Mini Reviews 13/09/2013

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.

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – SHATTERED EMPIRE #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Marco Checchetto & Andres Mossa
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: My brief dalliances with Star Wars comic books have been limited to side stories and off-shoots relating to, but never finishing past, the Original Trilogy's boundaries. I'm fully aware of a host of illustrated and novel postulations on what may have transpired beyond the destruction of the Death Star orbiting Endor, but have never been interested in exploring them. Now, with The Force Awakens less than 100 days away (blimey!), I couldn't help but throw an eye on this four-part series that casts some light on the 30 year span betwixt Episode VI and VII. Throwing us into the dog-fighting depths of the Battle of Endor's space warfare is a great start, giving Checchetto the opportunity to seriously impress as we see the conflict from a slightly different angle, whilst all the action we know and love takes place in odd panels here and there. It's then that Rucka settles us into the start of the clean-up on the Forest Moon and delivers the true punch of reality that tells us that the Rebellions' mission didn't end with the death of the Emperor and loss of its largest weapon. The introduction of new cast members allows us a window into the ongoing adventures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker et al, whilst offering potential links to new characters set to appear onscreen in a couple of months’ time. It's well realised, incredibly well illustrated, and genuinely feels like an extension of the Star Wars story proper. A fine start. 9/10

Matt C: Despite being lumbered with a ludicrously long title, Shattered Empire #1 (because there’s no way I’m typing out the whole lot more than once!) is a pretty damn fine Star Wars book. The solicitations made it sound like it would deal head on with the direct fallout within the Imperial command structure following Palpatine’s death, but in actual fact we dive straight into far more familiar territory. If I’m honest, I’d have probably preferred what was promised in the advanced blurb, but I can’t deny that seeing the direct aftermath of the Battle Of Endor - studiously illustrated and scripted with a definite flair for the correct tone - is thrilling, especially as it unexpectedly ties itself into The Force Awakens itself by giving as a look at one of the main character’s *ahem* origins. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is essential, but if you’re a fan of the franchise and eager to scoop up a morsel of narrative that fills in the blanks between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens then Shattered Empire looks like it will do a fine job of fulfilling that need. 8/10

James R: Full disclosure: I ruddy love Star Wars! I've mentioned here before that I have had an ambivalent relationship with one of my beloved cultural behemoths in my beloved medium (and that's an ongoing thing - Marvel have brought us the greatness of Jason Aaron's Star Wars title, but also the misfire of Kieron Gillen's Darth Vader) but with Shattered Empire, I have had to try and divorce my fanboy love as much as possible because just the words 'The official continuation of the story post-Return Of The Jedi' make my heart race a little. Add to that the fact that it's written by the great Greg Rucka, the man responsible for the majestic Lazarus... well, I was aware that I might be positively prejudiced about this book! As a comic, it's quite formulaic, introducing our two protagonists before building to an action scene finale. Rucka does a fine job in finding the voices of the iconic characters, and Marco Checchetto walks the tricky line between representation and interpretation well. As a comics fan, it's a perfectly enjoyable experience, but as a Star Wars fan, it's an absolute treat. Just 95 days left to wait... 7/10

FASTER THAN LIGHT #1
Writer: Brian Haberlin
Art: Brian Haberlin & Geirrod VanDyke
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I do generally enjoy stories about humankind's first steps into space exploration and Faster Than Light certainly starts at the beginning of such a story, but perhaps doesn't do it in the most original of ways. Haberlin quickly shows the difference of our current real-life capacity and the new status quo for this comic book version of Earth with the ISS being considered for an in-orbit museum in the face of newly discovered and adapted technology. There are clear and evident 'wheels within wheels' being played out as a mission performed in the full gaze of the public eye has a more secret and disturbing motive behind it as well as individuals pursuing various agendas. There's even another mission with more mystery surrounding it going on elsewhere in the background. This promises a potential level of depth to the story, but the whirlwind pace of this debut with the need for forceful, clichéd exposition and the playful nods to Star Trek, results in this feeling like a slightly rushed modern clone of the famous series, including signposted cliffhanger danger. The true test of whether this has proverbial (as opposed to alien) legs will certainly come in #2, but I'm not convinced that many people will stick around to see the result if I'm honest, and that includes me. 5/10

James R: For a while now, I've been hoping that a comics creative team gives us a space epic. I'm looking for something huge in scope, filled with high concepts, philosophical ideas, political intrigue and innovative plot. I've got excited about a slew of Image books that I hoped would scratch that itch - Copperhead, Drifter, Roche Limit, Invisible Republic - but they've all come up short for me. I was willing to give Faster Than Light a try as it's Previews listing described it as having "All the idealism of the original Star Trek and the grit and immediacy of Gravity." Sadly not. The issue itself starts (or ends) with one of the strangest opening gambits I've ever seen - the back cover features a plot point that should form the basis for the opening arc! As it is, Haberlin's tale feels like it's starting midstream, with (once again) the revelation that a malevolent race is on the way to Earth, and we have to find new allies or technology to save us before they turn up and, ugh, whatever - to be honest, I got bored just typing that sentence. I'm willing to accept that it could have surprises and twists in store, but as a first issue, this simply didn't grab me - it's a re-working of some very tired tropes. My search for a space epic continues as Faster Than Light fails to get off the launchpad. 4/10

SUICIDERS #6
Writer: Lee Bermejo
Art: Lee Bermejo & Matt Hollingsworth
Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: I don't know what to say. Bermejo has crafted a tale of two very different men, both tied to a brutal and violent life, both seemingly attempting to find a future for themselves through all the turmoil and evidently on a collision course with each other. And then Bermejo, at the very end of this opening arc, brings it all together and the results are just shocking and truly, truly well written. I really can't go into details as it would spoil the fun, but Suiciders was solid, recommendable reading before this conclusion and now, following this chapter, I believe Suiciders could well be essential reading. Bermejo and Hollingsworth's art has been sumptuous throughout, with the latter's colour work adding terrific contrast to The Saint and the Straniero's distinctive paths, and Bermejo has managed to follow several characters' journeys through the course of six issues and kept the focus keen, the writing tight, and the visage of this forever changed City of Angels incredibly gritty. One of those comics you'll spend days thinking about afterwards - I know I certainly have! 10/10

DEADLY CLASS #16
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Wes Craig & Jordan Boyd
Image $3.50

Matt C: Although it’s been, shall we say, a few years since I was a teenager, Rick Remender’s bottling of the emotional intensity and confusion of his characters rings true. Every situation is life and death, and while that’s literally true in this book, it also captures how those situations that are just adolescent blips are treated with exactly the same kind of panic and fervour. That heightened state coalesces in Wes Craig’s artwork, which continues to possess a kind of mania, even through the quieter scenes, always keeping you on edge. As this latest arc comes to its powerful, violent conclusion, Deadly Class remains as indispensable as ever. 8/10

INJECTION #5
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: The other evening, some of the members of the PCG were discussing all matters comics over a couple of beers, and we talked about how, for a while, we got burned by Warren Ellis. The roll call of promising or flat-out fantastic books that vanished into the ether is a familiar one: Fell, Desolation Jones, Doktor Sleepless, Anna Mercury - all now seemingly lost for the ages. As a result, I can see why some people might be reticent about getting too committed to any ongoing series by Southend's finest. Reading Injection though, I can't help but get carried away with one of comics' most prodigious talents. The feeling that I get from Injection is very similar to that which I got from Planetary - and that's high praise indeed. It's a team book, there's some trademark Ellis futurism, but there's also a healthy dose of folklore (I loved his use of Weland the Smith in this issue.) After setting the stage for four issues, we're finally given a full understanding of what the Injection is - it's a modern updating of the Frankenstein concept of a creation run amok. I love Declan Shalvey's art - he does a great job of catching the age of the sodden British Isles, and as with Jason Howard on Trees, it feels like a perfect fit for Ellis' script. One of the joys of being a comic fan is that as one series you love comes to an end, there's usually something to fill the void. This year I've been sad to see the end of my favourite, Mind MGMT, but Injection is currently doing a sterling job in establishing itself as my new passion. 8/10

LETTER 44 #20
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Alberto Jimenéz Alburquerque & Dan Jackson
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: One of the things that’s proven to be quite irresistible about Letter 44 is it’s unpredictability. Charles Soule has found a way to move his complex, sophisticated plot forward without rushing things or making the direction of the narrative obvious. This chpater perhaps suffers from some rather flat exposition and a few pacing issues, but overall it’s still applying a level intelligence to ensure it's a continuously compelling proposition. There are a lot of familiar elements in play, but Letter 44 packages them into something that feels fresh and innovative, so that even an issue that doesn’t hit all its mark is still a worthwhile addition to the ongoing storyline. 7/10

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