9 Nov 2015

Mini Reviews 08/11/2015

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.

EXTRAORDINARY X-MEN #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $4.99


Matt C: Now here’s an example of a great writer who’s already proved that he can do something interesting and exciting with a familiar company-owned character (All-New Hawkeye) getting hemmed in by the constraints of what seems like editorially-charged storytelling.  I’d expected/hoped that Jeff Lemire would push Marvel’s mutant team away from the formulaic, but unfortunately we’re yet again stuck with the likes of Storm and Magick waffling on about being hated and feared, while the whole ‘No More Mutants’ thing has been dusted off for another airing. Perhaps if you were new to this kind of thing it would seem fresh, but even having refrained from being fully invested in the X-Men universe for a good number of years I couldn’t help but feel this was a tired and hackneyed retread over instantly recognisable ground. Ramos does a solid job with the visuals but sadly Lemire’s unique voice gets drowned out by X-Men clich├ęs. 5/10

Stewart R: This comic represents so much that is going on with Marvel these days, from editorial drive to consideration of the MCU, positioning of the top talent to struggles with continuity, canon, and the yearly event cycle. There's no doubting that Lemire tries his best to dramatically push the dire plight facing mutantkind: the Terrigen mists are unlocking new Inhumans around the globe causing death and sterilization amongst the population with an X-Gene. He gives Storm that put-upon, stoic presence we've come to expect and for once Illyana appears to be a rounded, relatable character after years of grim-jawed seriousness from other writers. Ramos plays his familiar part too, bringing that high-grade quality we've come to expect from one of Marvel's most reliable artists over the past decade. The huge problems come from the current condition of, and status quos within, the wider Marvel Universe which is now so damn convoluted thanks to Bendis' bonkers, time-travel meddling with the X-Men, the fallout from Secret Wars, and an apparent action by Cyclops that gets plenty of suggested mention, but NO specific clarification from Lemire here. I've no idea whether I need to pick up an associated title to learn what Cyclops has done or whether this is setting up a reveal for a later date. I get the feeling that Lemire is at least just collecting the ends to all these infuriating threads before tying them together and forging something new and cohesive, but it's this kind of initial ambiguity that has seen me peel away from the X-Books in the past two years. 6/10

James R: Following two corking starts for my other Marvel relaunch books (Dr. Strange and Karnak), this week it was finally time to see if Jeff Lemire and Huberto Ramos could make it three for three with the start of Extraordinary X-Men. As a fan, I feel Marvel's handling of the X-Men titles has been shambolic over the last couple of years. Given that they had two superb books running in tandem (Gillen's Uncanny X-Men and Aaron's Wolverine & The X-Men) the decision to hand over the direction of the X-Men to Bendis and bring the '60s team through to the present day always seemed like a misfire. With Extraordinary X-Men, there's definitely a 'square one' feel to the book, as Storm seeks to create a secure haven for the now-limited numbers of mutants on Earth. As an issue, it's a 'getting the band back together' experience, and that's fine, if a little uneventful. Given that Jeff Lemire is a master at opening chapters (Sweet Tooth, Descender and Plutonia were all immediate winners) I was a little disappointed that it was such a standard first chapter. I was totally won over by Ramos' art though -  given that he seems to be an artist who people really love or cannot stand, I thought he produced some great work here, and he's certainly evolved his style from his days on Spider-Man. All told, a a perfunctory first issue - I'll wait and see if the fireworks start in the next few issues. 7/10

VISION #1
Writer: Tom King
Art: Gabriel Haernandez Walta & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: I was curious about this book as it looked quite a bit different to the more obvious fare comprising the majority of the ‘All-New, All-Different Marvel’, but while I’d half expected something interesting but ultimately lacking in, well, vision, what I got instead was something quite extraordinary, proof that the House of Ideas can still allow relatively leftfield concepts a chance to prosper, away from the more controlled banner franchises.  The Vision, now the Avengers’ liaison with the US government, has created a wife and two kids and moved to suburban Virginia in attempt to take a shot at having a normal life. But the question is, when you get behind closed doors in suburbia, what constitutes ‘normal’? It’s not an original concept – the robot who dreams of being human – as there have been plenty of fictional antecedents, from Data, to the Red Tornado, to Vision himself in previous adventures, and even the likes of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster explored the notion, and you could even include Pinocchio in the mix (“Am I real boy?”). What makes the concept timeless is that it asks us the question, what makes us human, and that’s something that doesn’t always have a simple answer. Writer Tom King takes all this, filters it through an almost Lynchian peek behind the picket fence, and allows the dispassionate narration to work its magic, alongside some strong, subtly unsettling illustration from Walta and muted colour schemes from Bellaire. It’s smart and startling, and not only is it arguably the best debut issue of Marvel’s relaunch/reboot so far but one of the best debuts of the year. 9/10

UNFOLLOW #1
Writer: Rob Williams
Art: Mike Dowling & Quinton Winter
Vertigo $3.99


Stewart R: Now THIS feels like a Vertigo book. Williams kicks things of in enigmatic style with murder, crime, intrigue and a dose of social media commentary as a dying billionaire aims to change the lives of 140 individuals by pledging his fortune to them. The strange, literal 'cliffhanger' at the start hints at the nefarious doings to come, before we're whisked through a bit of globetrotting, getting a peek into the lives of a petty criminal, a trust-fund baby trying to shun daddies money, and an Iranian reporter reaching the limits of her resilience and tolerance for injustice. It's a diverse cast and Williams gives these players a unique voice with just a few pages each. The final loose-cannon definitely adds another interesting element to proceedings and hints at blood-letting to come. Dowling's art is a good fit for a book such as this, his near photo-realism touch and fine line inking style stirring thoughts of Alex Maleev and Frank Quitely's work as I read on. Certainly a book that has you asking questions and providing few answers early on, but will convince you to buy more issues to find those answers. 8/10

JAMES BOND #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Masters & Guy Major
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99


Matt C:  As a Brit, it’s somewhat ingrained in my psyche that I must have a deep affection for the character of James Bond, but even if I was from different shores I think would find this iconic character irresistible. With Spectre setting the box office on fire (even though it’s getting panned in some quarters), this new foray into the comics medium for 007 felt like it would be the real deal, thanks to the man penning this latest set of adventures, Warren Ellis. Wit, misanthropy, violence? Ellis has got it covered. Or so you’d think. It’s a very lacklustre debut, and if this were a pre-credits sequence in a Bond movie, you might consider asking for your money back. It’s very competently crafted, and if this were an original Ellis concept rather than unavoidably familiar one, it might have just about worked (even if it often feels derivative of a lot of his other work) but in the end it seems the sheer weight of the legacy defeats the writer, resulting in something that’s passable but ultimately forgettable. 6/10

James R: "Oooh I will drive you in my ca-aar/to the Var-gr! The Varrrgrrrrrr!" Okay, I'll admit my Bond theme needs some work, but blimey, a theme tune is the only Bond trope that Warren Ellis doesn't squeeze into this first issue of his tenure with 007. When Skyfall was released, I remember reading director Sam Mendes describing the experience of making a Bond film as being given ownership of a listed building - you can move things around, but there's certain elements that can't be touched. In many ways, that's both the strength and weakness of Bond - the structure is so well established, that it's both reassuring and yet entirely constraining. In this issue, Ellis gives us the 'pre-credits mission', the Moneypenny flirting, the meeting with M, the 'Do pay attention, 007' meeting with Q, and the introduction of a lethal henchman/adversary - it's all very 'Bond'. It's interesting to read Ellis writing someone that he hasn't turned into the Ellis standard character trope (see Moon Knight and Karnak to see him doing this with aplomb) and at the moment, it's still too early to see just how much of his own spin he'll be putting on to Ian Fleming's most iconic creation. The art from Jason Masters is unfussy, and that suits the more grounded script from Ellis. I wasn't blown away by Bond, but there's enough quality here for me to take a longer look at how Ellis renovates the 'Listed building.' Licence renewed. 7/10

HERCULES #1
Writer: Dan Abnett
Art: Luke Ross & Guru-eFX
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: I’ve always had a soft spot for Hercules, the Greek god who often places revelry before superheroism, but who ultimately always has his heart in the right place. Abnett’s a solid writer (perhaps his greatest recent achievement being helping bring Marvel’s cosmic universe back to prominence) and Luke Ross has decent illustrative chops, so I was hoping there would be enough in the way of irreverent superhero hi-jinx to keep me entertained. Sadly, while there were a few moments of mild amusement, there was very little in the way to suggest this was the right path to put the Prince of Power onto for a successful solo title.  The most interesting aspect was seeing Gilgamesh lounging on Herc’s sofa, hinting at Odd Couple style shenanigans, but that looks like a secondary concern for a book that’s too reliant on affection for the character and not enough on setting something with a major hook in motion. 5/10

PAPER GIRLS #2
Writer: Bryan K. Vaughan
Art: Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Amongst all of the strange disappearances, ninja mummies and flying dinosaurs, there's something quite out of place in Paper Girls, and that's one of the character's 21st century postulation on what is occurring and what it might suggest. This has been clearly set up as a 1980s ode with a Hollywood sensibility, but it took me out of the suspension of disbelief by having a 'modern' Apple product be the MacGuffin that suggests time travel is at play and Erin's instant assumption that it's a micro computer doesn't sit well with this guy who grew up in the 80s when the world was shocked and amazed by the clunky brick that was the Gameboy. Aside from that glaring elephant in betwixt the pages I quite enjoy the interactions Vaughan brings with his depiction of the girls' curiosity, panic and decision-making, while Chiang's art, particularly his facial expression work, adds a decent level of magic to the whole package. I had been considering bailing out on Paper Girls at this juncture, but that last scene really hit a tense, emotional high-point that has me coming back to see how that cliffhanger pans out. 6/10

BLACK SCIENCE #17
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Matteo Scalera & Moreno Dinisio
Image $3.50


James R: This week, there were a few of my regular favourites that could have been my book of the week - Lazarus, Star Wars and Sex were all hugely enjoyable reads, but I'm sure regular readers here won't be surprised to learn I thought that! My pick of the week goes to another consistently brilliant book in the shape of Black Science. Why did it get the nod? Mostly because once again, Rick Remender shows his gift of pulling the rug from out under the reader, and resetting everything with aplomb. Following the jaw-dropping finale of issue #16, the action picks up three years later, focusing on a Grant McKay, who is stranded... well, it's difficult to say exactly where, but it opens up another fascinating narrative direction. The art from Matteo Scalera is a thing of beauty - at the moment, I think we comics readers are incredibly lucky to have both Scalera and Sean Murphy working on SF books by Remender; there's something about his scripts which seem to inspire both men to great heights. Moreno Dinisio's colours are also striking here - from the first page, through the depiction of the alien world and then McKay's past, his work adds vital tone and depth. Black Science's narrative may be wonderfully unpredictable, but its quality never is - still one of the finest books being published today. 9/10

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