4 Oct 2015

Mini Reviews 04/10/2015

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.

PROVIDENCE #5
Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows & Juan Rodriguez
Avatar $4.99

Matt C: I can imagine that some people may be losing their patience with this series as it’s clearly taking its time getting to its destination, but for me it’s Alan Moore back on his A-game, crafting an utterly beguiling tale that unnerves as much as it fascinates. The cover images continue to suggest creepiness but not all-out horror, and the contents reflect this, although there’s a lingering feeling that things will topple into someplace terrifying before we hit the end of this twelve-parter. One of things that really works in Providence is how the protagonist Robert Black is so perceptive when it comes to linking up with those of a similar sexual persuasion but is completely oblivious to all the indications that he’s getting himself deeper into something dark and dangerous. Jacen Burrows wobbles slightly early on in this issue before returning to his usual detailed semi-realistic style, and once again the backmatter proves integral to the overall narrative. Subtly disturbing, I continue to believe this has the potential to stand beside Moore’s finest works. 8/10

James R: Still utterly creepy. Throughout this series, Alan Moore has used dreams - or nightmares - to great effect, and in this issue he takes things up yet another notch as Robert Black continues his journey into the strange dark heart of the Lovecraftian Massachusetts. What's amazing to see here is the way in which Moore plays with narrative structure. In each section of the story, we feel Black is recounting what's unfolding on the page to an unseen figure, only for him to be recounting that exchange with yet another unseen character in the next part. It creates a feeling of unease which climaxes in one of the most disturbing sequences I've read in a long time. By the end of the issue, you're left with both the feeling that 'reality' for Robert Black is becoming increasingly fractured, and that an ominous fate awaits. I've said before that Jacen Burrows is a great partner for Moore when he's working on these Cthulu-inspired tales, and here he demonstrates why: his balance between the mundane and the unnerving is spot on. When this series started, I had no idea where Moore was taking us, and after five issues I feel like the protagonist in a horror film - I know this can't end well, but I have to see what's behind that locked door... 8/10

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE #2
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Art: Tim Sale & Dave Stewart
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Perhaps some will view this as a corny and old-fashioned take on the Sentinel of Liberty, and while to a certain degree that is the point, there’s also a sense of missing the point if that’s what’s being taken away from this series. It’s very much in keeping with the style and tone of the other entries into Loeb and Sale’s ‘Colour’ sequence, and personally I find this to be far more heartfelt than corny. Cap’s bond with Bucky is strongly defined here and the presence of the Howling Commandos diffuses any overt sentimentality. Sale’s art has a nostalgic flavour but also possesses a contemporary vitality that feeds through to its sense of urgency. It’s not going to give us a fresh insight into the mindset of 1940s Steve Rogers, but as a distillation of what we already know, it’s doing a fine job. 8/10

POSTAL #7
Writers: Bryan Hill & Matt Hawkins
Art: Isaac Goodhart & Betsy Gonia
Image/Top Cow $3.99

Stewart R: It's fair to assume these days that most comic book series getting a debut will run for maybe 5-6 issues and based on early projections and sales there'll be a swift decision on an extension. Reading this latest chapter of Postal (and to a degree the preceding issue) it does seem as if the pace has slowed from that concise and gripping opening arc as the creative team settle into a prolonged story for Mark in this troubled and dangerous town. While there is some development for Mark's continuous forging of his 'own' path this seems to be something of a sideways glance at a town that offers little in the way of pleasant second chances and when it does offer a spark of hope there's always going to be a hefty cost. The use of the boxing-underdog analogy is okay here as it fits with what Hill and Hawkins are trying to say, but it can't help but come across as clich├ęd in spite of the lesson it conveys. The art remains consistent, but (and I'm going to get nitpicky here sadly) Goodhart's physiology depiction seems to struggle just a touch here and there with the one character this issue focuses heavily on. Not at its best, but Postal as a series remains a pull-list certainty. 6/10

SUPERMAN #44
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: John Romita Jr, Klaus Janson, Dean White & Leonardo Olea
DC $3.99

James R: I think it is an interesting sign of the times that whilst the superhero genre has never been more popular in movies and TV, it’s feeling a little flat in comics. Even though there's a couple of interesting things spinning out of Marvel's imminent relaunch, there's an awful lot that looks pretty uninspired. Over at DC, there's a distinct lack of coherence, but, amidst this, there are some diamonds in the rough. For the last few months, the Superman titles have been interesting - over in Action, the plot has focused on civil unrest, while in the pages of this title, Gene Luen Yang has done some good work with what I thought would be a very tired plotline (Superman's identity revealed). This issue continues to have fun with that idea as criminals begin to target those nearest and dearest to Clark Kent, and Superman learns that being a saviour to multitudes also makes you a scapegoat for some. Visually, you know what to expect from JRJ and Janson, and it looks as dynamic and distinctive as ever. This book isn't reinventing the wheel by any means, but given the lack of invention in the Superman titles over the last decade it's really refreshing to see some new ideas and risks being taken with the Man of Steel. 7/10

SPREAD #10
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Kyle Strahm
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Ten issues seems like a fair way to be into a series, but the action-heavy nature of the opening arc had things fly past in a whirlwind and as such the, ummm, 'suspension' of No's development in order to bring others to the fore is not grabbing my attention as it should. Jordan has all of the other parties bluff and counter-bluff each other in an attempt, I guess, to show us what a dog-eat-virus-encrusted-dog world this is, but it sows just a little too much confusion and doesn't seem to lead anywhere. The art from Strahm has remained distinctive, but the aforementioned confusion extends to some of the busier scenes later on when I'm not sure if I'm supposed to recognise who a victim is when the veritable sewerage hits the fan. I know that things will pick up once No's condition allows him to return to proceedings properly, it's just a case of waiting for that to happen. 6/10

SEX #24
Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Piotr Kowalski & Brad Simpson
Image $2.99

Matt C: Joe Casey’s post-Batman speculative narrative trundles along, seemingly at a slow pace, but those invested enough will see the themes and subtext being developed constantly, in often profound ways. Sex works mostly through the evolution of the characters, with the plot almost a secondary concern, and knowing who these characters are supposed to represent ensures there’s always been an underlying familiarity that reinforces what Casey is attempting to say. The highlight of this issue has to be the homage to the old Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe series, as Simon Cooke’s history is relayed across the cover, giving us a little more insight into how this Batman analogue came to be. With its second year anniversary now achieved it’s strange to think that a book with such a provocative title (and an increasingly misleading one at that) should be tackling the idea of billionaire vigilante with more style and vigour than output from a certain, more prominent publisher. 8/10

James R: First and foremost - what a brilliant cover! Echoing the Marvel 'Handbooks' of yore (or: 'What we used to for geek facts before the internet!') the front and back covers of this issue of Sex look fantastic, but they also give a few more insights into the past of Simon Cooke, all of which add to the rich tapestry of the title. Inside, Joe Casey is building towards something big, as the rival gangs begin to jostle for position as Saturn City's premier crime syndicate and Cooke plans a strategy for dealing with the mysterious Mr Weber. Earlier this year, I wrote a pitch for Sex being a top-draw TV show, and as with the excellent Lazarus, this book continues to feel like a premium drama wrestled into the medium of comics. As usual, Piotr Kowalski's art is pitch-perfect, and this issue in particular showcased how effective Brad Simpson's colours are in capturing the hugely varied tones of the story. In his always-entertaining essay in the back pages, Joe Casey highlights that Sex has been going for two years now, and that he's satisfied with being able to push this series on “For the love of the game." We should be hugely grateful that the medium has talents like Casey as Sex continues to remind us how great comics driven by a singular vision can be. 8/10

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