11 Jan 2016

Mini Reviews 10/01/2016

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.

OBI-WAN AND ANAKIN #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Marco Checchetto & Andres Mossa
Marvel $3.99


James R: Following on from the triumph that is The Force Awakens, I am currently at maximum Star Wars fanboy joy. Consequently, it didn't take much to sell me on this title, but even without Episode VII, I still would have been interested - George Lucas' original draft for Episode I saw no Qui-Gon, and a more experienced Obi-Wan taking a teenage Anakin as his Padawan. I have always thought that would've been a better option, so a title with that as the central conceit? I'm on board. Add to that a script from the great Charles Soule, and art from Marco Checchetto (who has already done some grand Star Wars work on the Shattered Empire miniseries) I had the feeling this would be a fine read - and my instincts were right! The book sets up Anakin and Obi-Wan responding to a mysterious distress signal, as Anakin struggles to adapt to his Jedi training. It's not a revolutionary book, but for a fully paid-up Star Wars fan, it's another fine addition to Marvel's stewardship of the Force. With Vader Down not really working for as an event, it was a treat to read another book that certainly felt like Star Wars. 7/10

Matt C: Charles Soule was behind arguably the best Star Wars miniseries so far, Lando, but penning the adventures of a smooth-talking smuggler is a whole different kettle of fish to dealing with a Jedi Knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the boy prophesised to bring balance to The Force, Anakain Skywalker. The writer has no problem shifting gears though, and this tale fits nicely between The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones, acknowledging the wider picture of the Jedis’ place within the Republic but mainly focusing on the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan, shedding light on a period not yet covered by canon material, and it does this very well indeed. Checchetto turned in some fine work on the Shattered Empire series, but this is even better, providing him the opportunity to create huge splash images of worlds not yet seen before. There’s potential for some swashbuckling action here, but more so, there are hints that it will add some layers to the complex and sometimes volatile relationship to the most famous Jedi Master and Padawan in the Star Wars franchise. 8/10

UNFOLLOW #3
Writer: Rob Williams
Art: Mike Dowling & Quinton Winter
Vertigo $3.99


Stewart R: Mr Williams is certainly keeping things contemporary with Unfollow. This time he nods a knowing head in the direction of Ferguson, Missouri and Palestine and 'the 1%' in just the space of two pages to highlight how connected we all appear to be on the digital face of things these days, yet remain so unaware and isolated from the reality of Earth civilisation's component parts, events and lives as we sit in the sanctity of our offices, living rooms and bedrooms with digital device in hand. From there he starts pulling the cast together and revealing the thrust of this story which was never truly hidden, but carries a sinister, clinical tone in the final depiction here. Dave appears to fill the shoes of the protagonist, but he's flawed to the point of obnoxiousness, his odd moments of hallucination and fear being the biggest driver to see where this journey takes him amongst the impending carnage and bloodshed. And that, scattered throughout Williams' fine dialogue and Dowling & Winter's delicate art, is the biggest pull of all with Unfollow; the feeling that you're watching something akin to a car crash forming in slow motion and you simply can't look away. I certainly can't. 8/10

THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON #2
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
DC/Vertigo $3.99


James R: Due to a frankly shocking oversight, I missed the first issue of Sheriff Of Babylon off my pull-list. I've now righted that wrong, and I can now be effusive in my praise of the second issue. Sheriff of Babylon is a beautifully executed idea: a murder-mystery set in post-invasion Iraq. Using the fractured capital of Iraq as a setting isn't a new idea by any means, but Tom King writes as a man with first-hand experience of that city, and that comes across vividly in the book. This title has a feeling of verisimilitude to it that hooks me in as a reader, and the dynamic plot has me absolutely invested. Mitch Gerards does a great job in giving the Sheriff of Babylon a grounded and gritty feel that perfectly suits Tom King's script, making this another book that looks as if it's an HBO show pulled from the screen and on to the page. After some listless years, and losing a lot of ground to Image, it's really great to see Vertigo releasing a title of this quality. Here's hoping that this is just the first of more great titles from Vertigo in 2016, and also that King and Gerards maintain this outstanding quality in the issues to come. This title has very rapidly become an essential purchase. 9/10

A-FORCE #1
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Jorge Molina & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99


Stewart R: I found the Secret Wars tie-in series of A-Force to be something of a mixed bag, slightly hamstrung by the confines of the wider event, yet full of heart in its character work and top class art from Molina. The prologue piece in the throwaway Avengers #0 back in October did have me concerned however, and it was almost enough to put me off picking this up. I made a last minute decision to include this on my pull-list and to be fair, it manages to capture a good deal of the magic to be found in that initial event series. Wilson elects to keep the enigmatic Singularity as the focus and leaves her with memory of that past reality intact so that the world she finds herself in now is incredibly familiar to her, but strange and foreign in the same breath. Her flying from pillar to post (namely Captain Marvel in orbit to She-Hulk and Medusa in NYC) is exhilarating and a frenetic affair which allows Molina's style to shine once more. The same plot niggles remain from that aforementioned #0 issue - why would Carol expect a simple scientist to be able to contain and hold a matter manipulator and living quantum singularity?? (do not say 'it's comics!') - but they're few and far between and easily smoothed over with an accomplished polish and good amount of fun in the reading. 8/10

THE FADE OUT #12
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.99


Matt C: The perfect ending to the perfect series. That’s not hyperbole because it’s my firm belief that the Brubaker/Phillips partnership is one of the greatest in comics over the last couple of decades, and this is quite possibly their greatest collaboration yet. Setting it in Hollywood during the 1940s, essentially when noir as we know it was born, almost seems to be too obvious for these two as we’ve grown used to them applying the genre conventions to a variety of different settings, but when carefully considered it makes absolute sense that they should tackle a tale in the quintessential noir period and then utilize all their skills to really make  the story soar. Their secret weapon has been Elizabeth Breitweiser, one of the best colourists in the business, who brings a set of realistic but often lurid hues to make things sizzle on the page. It’s immensely sad to see this series conclude (even though it concludes with melancholic brilliance) but the saving grace is the knowledge that this trio are already at work on their next project. If it’s anywhere near as good as The Fade Out then it’s destined to be pretty damn special. 10/10

FOUR EYES: HEARTS OF FIRE #1
Writer: Joe Kelly
Art: Max Fiumara
Image $2.99


Stewart R: It's back!! Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara return with their Depression era tale of underground dragon fights as young Enrico continues to learn a great many truths about the cruel, bloody world he's found himself in. There's been a sizable break, but the mysterious Chicago-based opening sets the tone once more as Kelly alludes to the race tensions and financial pitfalls of the '30s period whilst potentially introducing new characters in the same motion. We're then reunited with Enrico and his runt-of-the-litter pet as the time comes for the pair to start their journey to the violent arenas ahead. In the last volume, Kelly always seemed to keep the dragons themselves as a tasty seasoning to the tale, only used sparingly and to great effect. We get a little more to wet our collective whistles here, but still he and Fiumara don't give away the goods too soon. As Fawkes leads Enrico further into the belly of the beast we get to witness the young boy's revulsion at the lessons he learns and understand the older mentor's weariness and solemn nature at the duties he undertakes. Kelly keeps things moving in the peripheral too with Enrico's mother and Fawkes' boss all being involved in some way. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to sink back into this fictional world and suspect it might even be a good starting point for first time readers. Well worth picking up a copy if you're in the hunt for a new miniseries to start the year! 9/10

DOCTOR STRANGE #4
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Wayne Faucher, Victor Olazaba & Jaime Mendoza
Marvel $3.99


James R: This chapter is wonderfully titled 'The Art of Puking without Puking'  and it's credit to the talent of Jason Aaron that it all makes absolute sense. This month, Aaron focuses on the physical price that Stephen Strange has to pay for being the Sorcerer Supreme. The writer introduces the idea that every spell cast comes at a physical cost, and the prolonged exposure to magical energy means that his diet is unconventional to say the least. It's a neat layer of character texture from Aaron, and as his run on this title settles into a groove, he's doing a great job of making Strange more human and relatable as a protagonist. Once again, Chris Bachalo is a perfect fit for this title and he brings the magical to life with aplomb. As well as being a smart read, it's also great to see the sense of fun (one of the hallmarks of their work on Wolverine & The X-Men) is very evident in these pages. Undoubtedly a magic book in every sense of the word. 8/10

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