29 Nov 2015

Mini Reviews 29/11/2015

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.

Writers: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello
Art: Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson
DC $5.99

Billy P: I know I’m in the minority, but I loved The Dark Knight Strikes Again! Sure, it was exuberant, chaotic and, at times, incoherent, but I have so much affection for that book. I mean, it’s not The Dark Knight Returns, a book that rightly dwells in the annals of graphic genius, but DKSA is brilliantly bonkers. (Check out Grant Morrison’s wonderful analysis of both books on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman). Following Miller’s Holy Terror, I thought I was done with Frank. That book is simply reactionary and vulgar, a conservative wish-fulfilment that crosses the line into Islamaphobic flag-waving. Unlike his early work, Frank has not aged well, at least politically, which begs the question: does anyone actually care about a third part in ‘The Dark Knight’ sequence? Promoted as the comic book equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, there is so much about the economic logics of DKIII that just rankles, not least the plethora of variants which reek of the 1990s, a period which saw the market collapse amidst shiny, foil covers and a discerning readership who cried havoc and refused to toe the party line any more. On the other hand, it’s Frank Miller doing the Batman, and I was too intrigued not to pick this up. Joined this time by Brian Azzarello on writing duties and Andy Kubert on pencils, perhaps Miller’s right-wing leanings would be curtailed (in fact, Miller has repeatedly stated that this is Azzerello’s gig and Frank is simply consulting). Kubert impresses by channelling Miller’s art style from the DKR period, and Brad Anderson’s colours ensure that this certainly looks like it exists in the DK world. That being said, there doesn’t seem to be enough material to cast any judgement beyond a disgruntled ‘meh.’ I mean, it’s okay, but we’re going to need the complete run to decide whether or not this lives up to both the hype and the history. The book tries its best to end on a cliffhanger but, once more, I feel that I simply don’t care enough. I will definitely pick up the complete run, if only for the fear that the creative team are building towards something substantial and I may miss out. But for the moment: meh. 5/10

James R: When Frank Miller first proposed the idea of an aged Batman, it was born out of the fact that he didn't like the idea that he was now older than the fictional Caped Crusader. I think that's telling, as increasingly more and more of our popular culture focuses on how we temporal beings relate to those fictional constructs who remain untouched by time. DC themselves went back to the well for Kingdom Come in the 1990s, and a certain film set in a galaxy far, far away is about to return with beloved protagonists three decades older. (There's plenty more examples, but this is supposed to be a concise review - count yourselves lucky!) So, Dark Knight III arrives not so much as a revolutionary idea, but more of a staple now. I tried to imagine reading this divorced from the first two instalments, and it certainly held my attention - but it certainly didn't amaze of surprise me either. I was slightly befuddled by DC's formatting choice - I'm not sure the point of having the 'mini-book' within the comic, when it would have worked just as well as extra pages at the back. A neat enough start (as you would expect from the array of talent involved) but there's nothing Earth-shattering here. 6/10

Matt C: I had minimal expectations for this. While The Dark Knight Returns is an important, influential classic (although arguably many creators need to move beyond its influence), The Dark Knight Strikes Back didn’t have anywhere near the same impact, and, having read it only once upon its release, I’d probably have a hard time telling you what it’s about. And then there’s Frank Miller, an author whose star has fallen quite dramatically over the last decade for various reasons, not least his dodgy politics. So there was a point on the lead up to the debut of DKIII that I figured I’d probably skip it until I of course realised that was probably a bit stupid. Regardless of its eventual quality, it’s still a sequel to one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, so I felt it was almost unavoidable that I’d need to check it out. And hey, it’s not too bad! Sure, DC’s hype machine would have us believe it’s an instant masterpiece, but the jury’s definitely out on that verdict. It does come across as a ‘lesser’ tale set in the DK universe but Azzarello and Kubert’s input helps give it some extra vigour and while the decision to stick the Atom story as a ‘mini-comic’ in the middle of the book rather than have it as a back-up is frankly bizarre overall I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. I may change my tune as things progress but it’s a positive start at least. 7/10

Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Javier Rodriguez & Alvaro Lopez
Marvel $3.99

Billy P: Another relaunch that is hardly a relaunch. Another week where I regret the size of my pull-list. Another month and I offer you a fool on a platter (that’s me!). Secret Wars promised that the universe would never be the same again. Well, we’ve all heard that before, haven’t we? Indeed, too many times to count. In this so-called ‘All-New All-Different’ Marvel Universe there has been little that is either new or different. Sure, creative rosters have shifted, new titles have started and a fleet of relaunches have been released. But that’s comics, people!: an ever-shifting landscape of writers, artists and titles. Change and revision is built into the very DNA of serial comics or they wouldn’t have lasted so long! I could have chosen other books, but Spider-Woman will serve for my purposes here. Although this is a #1, it follows on from the pre-Secret Wars series and in no way represents a jumping on point for new readers. Reading the book, I switched off so many times due to the insipid and dull narrative, despite the Spider-Woman-is-pregnant plot (or, rather, gimmick). But I should be thankful. This book, and a slew of other Marvel titles, has forced a reconsideration of the funds I spend each month. Since DC’s New 52 initiative, Marvel has repeatedly relaunched its superhero titles for one reason and one reason only: #1s sell more books. Simply put, Spider-Woman #1 is not a legitimate #1. It is neither ‘all-new’ nor is it ‘all-different,’ and the status quo remains relatively unchanged. To be explicit, I am angry, folks: angry with Marvel; angry with DC (I bought into Convergence hook, line and sinker), but, mostly, angry with myself. I mean, we have had three Spider-Man re-launches in eighteen months or so. No. That’s it. I’m done. I am officially resisting the relaunch. Rant over. 2/10

Stewart R: If I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure how to feel about the leap forwards in time and the series renumbering FOR NO GREAT APPARENT REASON here. I cannot see that anyone who wasn't already picking up Spider-Woman in its previous volume's infancy would be convinced to jump in here with an evident and puzzling mystery lingering over proceedings for even those die-hard fans who were on board last time out and who get all of the in-jokes and understand the rapport between the cast. Befuddlement at the usual publisher frustrations aside, this is still Hopeless doing what he does well and filling the pages with everyday strife of Jessica Drew, now 'with child' - presumably after Secret Wars 'action' (oo-er) - and trying to, begrudgingly, take things a touch easier compared to her usual daring exploits. The initial attention to continuity within this title's canon was appreciated, Jessica's passing of the baton to Porcupine actually getting me within a hundred metres of 'misty' and while I've hopes that the familiar cast will return down the line, this feels like Hopeless taking things in a definite new direction. The idea of a pregnant superhero does have great potential and the mystery of the other parent's identity will no doubt linger long into the run, you just have to hope that editorial - or perhaps the greater pull of Marvel's direction - don't cut this story arc short... and renumber the damn thing pointlessly once again. 7/10

Writer: Chuck Palahniuk
Art: Cameron Stewart & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics  $3.99

James R: I should have known better - with Chuck Palahniuk, there's always a twist. So far, Fight Club 2 started phenomenally well, wobbled a little in the middle, but the last two issues have been superb. This one in particular gets my nod as I always have a lot of time for books that attempt to do something new with the medium - or even the idea of comics. This month, Palahniuk reflects on the power of an idea, and what happens when you create something that takes on a life on its own. Naturally, the concept of 'Fight Club' is one of these things, and the insinuation is that the comic sequel is an example of fictional characters surviving into a new medium. Oh, and there are more plans for global revolution and chaos for good measure. It still looks magnificent; I say again that this series is a new high for Cameron Stewart. Fight Club 2 is meeting my sky-high expectations - and that's no mean feat!  9/10

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Nicola Scott & Chiara Arena
Image $3.99

James R: This has jumped from being a promising debut to a cracking ongoing. After the introduction to Rowan Black and her world, Greg Rucka shows a masterful control of plot and genre here. The police procedural mixed with the occult works really well, and the threat against Rowan is teased in such a way that it sets up the next issues brilliantly. The art from Nicola Scott makes this a distinctive and atmospheric book, and it’s another Image title that you could easily see becoming a HBO show. It's not doing anything revolutionary, but it's a fine example of great comics made by creators with talent. If you were holding off on Black Magick, I advise you to reconsider - this is a book that's already found a rich groove. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.50

Matt C: Maybe the only positive thing that comes from the knowledge that The Fade Out is due to conclude next month is that I won’t have to locate any more superlatives to apply to this magnificent series. This is noir at its finest, set in the perfect period for the genre (the 1940s), featuring men repeatedly making bad decisions, either because they’ve been beguiled by someone of the opposite sex or because of they possess an innate desire to barrel towards self-destruction. It may be sad to see it go but it’s set up the finale with such assured precision that it seems nigh on impossible that we’ll get anything other than an entirely satisfying – and perhaps even perfect – ending. 8/10

Writers: Matteo Casali & Brian Azzarello
Art: Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Alex Sinclair
DC $4.99

Billy P: Technically and temporally, this title came out last week, but I only picked up my mammoth pile from Paradox Comics yesterday (I say again, “Damn you Marvel and your welter of #1s!” while Andy H rubs his palms in nefarious, capitalist glee!). Strangely, Batman: Europa was announced in 2004, but is finally released over a decade later, the comic book version of Guns ‘N’ Roses' diabolical Chinese Democracy. Now I’m not one to emphatically state that this has been well worth the wait – I haven’t actively been waiting -- but this is a good first issue, certainly better than the hyped Dark Knight III: The Master Race. Jim Lee is on form, as usual, but the way in which Alex Sinclair’s colours collaborate with Lee’s pencils offers a distinct aesthetic. The book is beautifully realised, and the narrative blends well with the tone and tenor of this brand of Bat-Noir (patent pending). Indeed, Batman’s inner monologue would not be out of place in a Raymond Chandler story with the Dark Knight standing in for Philip Marlowe. With so many Bat books on the release schedule each month, it’s safe to say that DC continues to count on our fixation with the cape and cowl, but I will certainly be following this four-issue miniseries through to its conclusion despite the $4.99 price tag. Definitely recommended. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Wilfredo Torres & Ive Svorcina
Image $3.50

Stewart R
: I've no idea when we'll eventually get back to Jupiter's Legacy; Mark Millar is a law unto himself and with a second volume of Jupiter's Circle hitting stands I'd drop a guess at very late 2016 if we're lucky. For the first time in this prequel however, it feels like Millar may be lifting the curtain a touch so we might get a glimpse of the monumental 'something' that shaped the heroes of mid-20th Century Earth before conflict between them reached its zenith in the next century. For once it also feels like we're getting an insight into the title of this series. The relationship dramatics and dynamics are still interesting enough, here between Sheldon (the Utopian) his then wife Jane and their close friend Grace (Lady Liberty). This is especially compelling with the fates of various cast members between the two time periods still to be revealed. There's even something special in the way that Millar keeps the heroes just ever so slightly distant, or aloof, our views of them generally shaped by the regular Joes who make up their friends, families and loves. It's hard to gauge whether that's a purposeful aim or perhaps Millar just engaging more with the wider cast of characters, knowing he has less time to define them so they appear fuller, livelier. In any case, this remains a solid enough read and this new volume hints that Circle may begin to offer more important insights into the events that take place in Legacy if you haven't been picking this up. 8/10

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