19 Oct 2015

Mini Reviews 18/10/2015

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.

Writer: Gilbert Hernandez
Art: Darwyn Cooke & Dave Stewart
DC/Vertigo $4.99

Matt C: Darwyn Cooke was the draw for me here; I’ve been aware of Gilbert Hernandez but have never sampled his work, coming to the perhaps ill-informed conclusion that his ‘indie’ status meant he wasn’t an especially inclusive creator, and that’s something I’ll have to reassess based on this opening issue. The setup is one that soaks up weirdness, set in a small Latin America village where the appearance and disappearance of strange luminous orbs is something of an unexplained regularity. This debut chapter is mostly laying the groundwork with the cast of characters, providing backstory as it moves along, Cooke’s perfectly rendered panels giving real beauty to expression and incident. His retro/modern stylings result in some astoundingly direct imagery and if you’re a fan of the man’s work then rest assured that Hernadez is proving himself a worthy partner for what’s look like a delightfully off kilter storyline. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

James R: This week my pull-list was a paltry three books, and as sad as that sounds, it actually presented me with an almost-Goldilocks selection of material. One book I loved for the script, one I loved for the art, but this - this one was just right. East Of West has never been anything short of spectacular from the first issue, and this rich, wildly idiosyncratic series continues to be the perfect marriage of writing and artistic powers. Firstly, there's Nick Dragotta's art. I still struggle to find adjectives that adequately convey his style - kinetic at times, dramatic, startling… it's all that, but there's still more to it. In this issue we see the full range of his skills as the narrative takes us through three separate negotiations for the Endless Nation, and Dragotta renders all of them beautifully. Then there's Hickman's script. There's so much I love about East Of West - the huge mythos, the personal stories and intrigues that he's weaving into a grand narrative. Here Hickman meditates on the role of technology, what it means to listen, and once again, the nature of violence in the savage world he's created. These two creators combine to make something remarkable, and knowing Hickman's love of the long game, I feel that East Of West has still got a multitude of surprises in store. This has been essential reading from day one, and continues to be a highlight of my monthly pull. 9/10

Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: Kev Walker & Guru eFX
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: As is tending to be the case with Secret Wars' general 'What If' leanings where associated miniseries are concerned, the reliable quality and surprises are to be found furthest from the A and B list canon. Weirdworld tops the bill for me, but Spurrier and Walker's Marvel Zombies comes in a strong second. Elsa Bloodstone has quickly become more than a stoic, put-upon protagonist, Spurrier's canny pacing with plot reveals and focused use of flashbacks allowing us to delve into the mindset of an individual burdened by legacy in terms of both physical and psychological conditions. As he wraps things up here it becomes all the more clearer that a simple resolution to Elsa's stranding in the wastelands wasn't on the cards and what he delivers is a perfectly constructed ending. It shows real character growth and thereby provides a satisfactory conclusion amongst the greater dissatisfaction that it isn't likely to count for much in an 'All New, All Different' Marvel, despite the evident potential. 8/10

Writer: Gerry Duggan
Art: Phil Noto
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: More post A New Hope adventuring, this time featuring everyone’s favourite walking carpet in the spotlight. On the face of it, it feels a little throwaway and non-essential, a tangential escapade that will not have much if any bearing on Chewbacca’s arc through the Original Trilogy, but there are some nice moments peppered throughout as Chewie agrees to assist a young girl who’s escaped from captivity and wants to return to free her father and his friends from enslavement.  Admittedly quite a formulaic plotline, Duggan handles it well, but the major appeal here is Noto’s particularly strong artwork, and how he manages to convey the emotion of the title character when the dialogue is a bit limited in that respect. While it probably wouldn’t have the legs to extend beyond the miniseries parameters, it gives the indication it will be an extremely likable addition to Marvel’s burgeoning roster of in-canon Star Wars line. 7/10

Writer:Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale & Dave Stewart
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: What's going on in Captain America: White? You know what? It doesn't really matter - it just looks beautiful. After the seemingly endless delay, it's been great to see Loeb and Sale back together. So far, Captain America: White isn't up there with Spider-Man: Blue for me (my favourite 'Colour' collaboration as it weaved through the first Spider-Man comics, and the first American comics I'd ever read) but it's just a treat to see Tim Sale's work. With Dave Stewart's colours adding a luscious but dark sheen art, any number of these panels could be considered amongst Sale's best work, and that's high praise indeed. It's not groundbreaking, and it's not cutting edge, but it is - for a fanboy - a reassuring read. The comics equivalence of a long, warm bath on a cold winter's day. 7/10

Writers: Marguerite Bennett & G. Willow Wilson
Art: Jorge Molina & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I'm a touch conflicted with A-Force as a miniseries, Secret Wars as an overriding, influencing event and the quality of the product in front of me. There is no doubting in my mind that Jorge Molina is a top class, A-grade, premium illustrator for Marvel and Laura Martin is the equivalent in the colour stakes. This last issue is a wonder to look at and the publisher might do well to push them towards main event book territory soon. When it comes to the writing, I'll admit that Bennett and Wilson have given it a good crack at capturing the emotive elements of this story and when it came to She-Hulk's struggle with leadership and Nico's struggle with loss there were some fine moments to be found. The most unfortunate thing, in spite of those wins, is that the plot has been wafer thin amongst these five issues. The loose events that have transpired have simply allowed the introduction of Singularity into the Marvel Universe - she'll appear in the upcoming A-Force ongoing series from the same creative team - and led to this zombie-filled punch-up at the end. Those moments that have actually alluded to the grander scope of Doom's machinations have been washed quickly away in favour of smaller, local conflicts within the boundaries of Arcadia. For the relative fanfare that news of an all-female Avengers book brought, the lack of male heroes hasn't even be examined, which seems like an opportunity missed. This has, for me, left A-Force as a very attractive, occasionally competent and somewhat unessential event tie-in read. 6/10

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta & Andreas Mossa
Marvel $3.99

James R: One thing we old wizened geeks of the PCG will say when talking comics to each other is "I started reading X, and then I suddenly realised I had no memory of what happened in the previous issue!" This is what happens when you have demanding careers and families - younger readers, be warned! Anyway, that's not something we can say about Shattered Empire as the next issue arrived an impressive seven days after issue #2! My thoughts on this chapter are very similar to what I said last week; as a Star Wars geek, I love how Rucka is tying together the two trilogies in making a bridge to Episode 7 - in this issue, it's Leia on Naboo, and visiting a familiar hanger from the Phantom Menace that gave me geeky satisfaction (and there's nothing as pleasing as midweek geeky satisfaction. Fact!) The art is okay, but I think that Checchetto and Unzueta are giving us a slightly airbrushed Star Wars, and the galaxy far, far away for me should always have a lived-in feel. With only one issue left, this series hasn't hurt my wallet either, and I say again - if you're as nuts about Star Wars as me, Shattered Empire certainly demands to be read before December the 17th. 7/10

LOW #10
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini & Dave McCaig
Image $3.50

Stewart R: It seems a little strange to recommend a science-fiction comic book, about a seemingly doomed planet where a bloody death is a likely outcome for every individual in the cast on a daily basis, as essential reading material on helping to cope with depression. But Low is that book. And I highly recommend it for that reason above the many other solid reasons there are to purchase it in monthly or collected format. Remender has maintained an erratic profile for this rollercoaster of emotions; the positive moments and creeping highs being unpredictable amongst the depths of despair and desperation that Stel finds herself combating on an alarming basis. He's shown that even the most hopeful and optimistic of spirits can be brought down by the weight of the world and in this issue he masterfully steers Stel into a realisation about the power of her outlook and attitude. This follows an action packed front end to the chapter which ramps up the terror element of this hostile environment and sets proceedings on a steady plummet once more before twisting last minute and soaring beautifully to its illuminating crescendo. Emotional. Essential. Unmissable. 9/10

Matt C: Low is gradually becoming the most emotionally incisive of Rick Remender’s creator-owned books, and if you’re aware of his past struggles with depression (which he’s written about on a number of occasions) you can see how it mirrors Stel Caine’s own realisation of how she can re-establish her sense of hope, culminating in an inspirational monologue at the end of the issue. There’s an almost operatic approach to each scene - amplified by Greg Tocchini’s keen grasp of visual drama – that proves to be irresistibly absorbing. Early on I had doubts Low had the potential to match the astonishing creative heights Remender was reaching with Black Science and Deadly Class, but not only has this sad, beautiful, truthful series now matched them in terms of quality, there are hints that it may even surpass them. 9/10

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