17 Jan 2016

Mini Reviews 17/01/2016

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.

SECRET WARS #9
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic & Ive Scorcina
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: It’s been epic, it’s been ambitious, it’s even been unwieldy at times, but although there’s still plenty going on in this fantastic finale, it brings its focus down to a more personal level as Jonathan Hickman concentrates on the greatest rivalry in comics – between Doctor Doom and Reed Richards – and the results are thrilling to say the least. As they trade words we get some of the finest dialogue we’ve ever heard coming from these characters’ mouths, and the way the writer strips everything down to an emotional level, with guilt and admissions flying thick and fast, is something else. Without giving too much away, where the long lead-up to this conclusion across various titles over the last few years has had a pessimistic tone of near hopelessness, with certain individuals compromising themselves for what they believed to be the greater good, the conclusion itself offers up something far closer to an acceptance of personal failings and how that can be transformed into hope and optimism. Cynics may bemoan how much (or even how little) the consequences of this ending affect the wider Marvel Universe, and how it’s not quite the reboot many speculated it would be, but they’re sort of missing the point: we’ve seen a writer tackling these iconic characters in a bold and daring manner, on his own terms, and in the process he’s created something quite spectacular, a story that, no matter what retcons occur after, works as a hugely impressive whole, and is arguably one of the finest examples of superhero storytelling so far this century. It will endure because it’s been scripted with tremendous imagination and insight, and because the artistry on the pages from the entire creative team has been provocative and breathtaking. It’s unlikely that we’ll see an event book as accomplished as Secret Wars any time soon, but the fact that we have seen it, and it ended in such as satisfying fashion, should be applauded. 9/10

James R: Alright, let's get the good stuff down first. After a heroic run on both Fantastic Four and then Avengers and New Avengers, Hickman’s final issue of Secret Wars acts as a grand conclusion to the vast, multi-title, multi-year narrative. What works so well here is Hickman writing both Doom and Reed Richards' confrontation with intelligence and verve, with both men realising their limitations and their strengths - Doom is the man who can make hard choices, but is too egotistical to create a truly free world, whereas Richards can but lacks Doom's utilitarian will to sacrifice to survive. As with every issue of the run, it is a beautiful comic to look at - Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina have been the perfect choice, rendering the almost dreamlike, mythic qualities of Doom's Battleworld perfectly. So is this an absolute smash for me? Not quite. After nine issues, it feels as if everything has been re-established with only very minor alterations to the status quo of the Marvel Universe (and whereas I know change in comics is only ever illusory or temporary I had hoped for a little more risk in the reset). In retrospect too, I feel calling the event 'Secret Wars' was a pretty cynical ploy – obviously it meant to appeal to ageing fanboys such as myself, but it could have easily been called 'Doomworld' and been just as effective. Following the events of Secret Wars, I find that I'm now only getting two Marvel titles - Doctor Strange and the already-delayed Karnak. I suppose then this final issue is - for now - a chance to step away from the Marvel Universe until a writer of Hickman's calibre begins to orchestrate things again. Given the sophistication he's shown in the long journey to this issue, I think I might be waiting for a while. And finally - kudos for giving us Doctor Doom fans one final, enraged cry of "RICHARDDSSS!" 8/10

GUTTER MAGIC #1
Writer: Richard Douek
Art: Brett Barkley & Jules Rivera
IDW $3.99

Ann L: I was looking forward to the release of Rich Douek’s new book and I’m happy to report, I wasn’t disappointed. The first thing that catches your attention here has got to be Brett Barkley’s illustrations and Jules Rivera’s colouring. The two together bring this comic to life; I’m actually wishing for a cartoon version of this now. The speed and tempo of the narrative is perfect, winding me up, bringing me down, only to bring me to a weird upside-down, going-forward-in-time-to-go-backwards two-page spread where the colourful lights leap off the page, yet serves the breadcrumbs both backwards and forwards into the comic (read it, you’ll see what I mean!). While I can’t say Cinder Byrnes and his green-skinned goblin sidekick have drawn me in completely, I am intrigued by the feisty female characters, Shiver, and The Morgue, a mother-daughter duo who will clearly cause some distinct challenges for Cinder as he makes his way through a modern NYC in search of a spell that helped win World War II (which was fought with magic and not bombs!). One last thing to note: this comic is part of the Comics Experience, a place where up-and-coming creators can workshop their ideas. Douek’s is the fourth publication to come from this workshop, so support the project, support up and coming artists, and support this comic… it’s a good one! 7/10

INJECTION #6
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: If there was a Platonic ideal of a Warren Ellis single-issue comic, then this would be it. In my years of reading the Bard of Southend's work, there are a few guarantees: mind-stretching ‘Big Science’, irascible characters and inevitable delays are certainly par for the course, but you can be sure he'll also write an issue like this. A self-contained story that makes the most of every panel in its 20 pages , Injection #6 focuses on Headland, Injection's Sherlock Holmes analogue. The greatness of the issue is realised thanks to superb work from Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. Shalvey's clean pencils give everything from human cannibalism to a frustrated staff member flipping the bird a terrifically real feel, and Bellaire's colours blend the past with the narrative present to terrific effect. A while back, I said that my problem with the writer Ales Kot was that he tried too hard to push his erudition and influences on the reader. Here Warren Ellis shows how it should be done, as he weaves in nods to both Jacques Derrida and Hegel without missing a beat. Best of all, this was a book where once I'd finished reading it, I felt immediately compelled to go back to the start and read it again. That's always a sure sign of brilliant for me, and as either part of a grander narrative, or taken in isolation, this was a stunning issue. 9/10

SPREAD #12
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Jen Hickman & Felipe Sobreiro
Image $3.50

Stewart R: We're into origin stories and one-shots in this bloody, brutal series and if you're new to this book then the cover perfectly sums up Molly's character; she's a caring sort, but most certainly altered and scarred by her past. Jordan elects to skip through her history in quick-step fashion from abandoned (suggested) child, to adopted daughter, to reluctant concubine. In line with the general feel of this apocalyptic world, the brutal honesty in the depiction of events is stark indeed. Hickman's art is a good match for this story (Sobreiro's colours aiding with the feeling of continuity) and with a tale as harrowing as this - and it truly is a saddening tale indeed - she manages to perfectly capture the raw emotion of the main players once Jordan starts jabbing home the sharp truth of Molly's unhinged state. In a series where characters have remained mysteries for a good while it's great to have Jordan pull back the curtain for a moment... but be prepared for the glorious grit underneath! 8/10

SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #3
Writer: Max Landis
Art: Joelle Jones & Rico Renzi
DC $3.99

James R: This book is becoming predictable for its unpredictability. Max Landis has now given us three hugely different issues, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing. The first issue felt over-familiar, the second was arguably the best single-issue of a Superman comic in years, and now this third chapter, is, well… unusual. Landis centres in on Clark's early twenties, and sees him via a lucky accident take up the identity of Bruce Wayne for a weekend. What works here is that Landis shows how Clark's time amongst the super-wealthy teaches him more lessons about fairness and justice, the core components of what make him Superman. What doesn't though is the notion that Clark's weekend on a super-yacht has him bumping into half the DC Universe, and people he'll see frequently as the Man of Steel - Green Arrow, Sue Dibny, Cheetah and then Deathstroke... all on the same weekend! Given how few people I still know from when I was 21, I always feel that plots wherein this happens in any media feel forced. Once again, Landis has been blessed with a great art team - Jones and Rezni do a great job on bringing this chapter to life - but following the essential nature of the last issue, this instalment felt instantly forgettable. 6/10

Matt C: A strange one, this. The debut issue was warm and inspiring, the second issue was full of doubt and apprehension, whereas this third instalment is… well, I don’t know quite what it is. It’s kind of a one-note joke – Clark Kent gets mistaken for Bruce Wayne – that goes on for far too long, leading to something that’s inevitable, but you wish they’d got there another way. It’s fine as it goes, Jones’ art is the right side of playful for the tone Landis is going for here, but ultimately it’s all rather throwaway. The quality of the first two issues (the second in particular) means I’m on board with this series until the end, and hopefully something more substantial will grow out of the seeds planted here. 6/10

JOHN FLOOD #6
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Jorge Coelho & Tamra Bonvillain
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: And here at the climax of this series Jordan pulls out his touch for frenetic, action pacing as we once witnessed in Dead Body Road. The quick detour into 'secret government project' territory took me slightly by surprise a few issues back, but here it's added a needed emotional boost to Flood's manipulations as he seeks answers for why he was given the strange power/skill that affects his life so much. Tate Randall has been a fine, direct and physical antagonist to Flood's fluid, psychological presence, and through all of the death and chaos it's been an interesting hook to have Flood need answers from the man looking to crush him underfoot. The grounded focus of the book has been jaded ex-cop Berry and he even gets some closure here, facing his demons down whilst doing his job and straying ever so close to the line he once crossed before. Coelho's work with the car-chasing and the fist-fighting is exhilarating enough through this finale and his distinctive style has been another positive in a series that deserves to have a second volume follow swiftly on from this. Get on it BOOM! 8/10

HUCK #3
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
Image $3.50

Matt C: There’s a lot to like about this series. You have the affecting elegance of Albuquerque’s imagery and it's good to see Millar drop any cynicism or overt self-awareness that can sometimes mar his work, creating a tale that nicely juxtaposes the sweetness of the title character against the harsher realities of the world, highlighting the power of hope in even the most desperate of situations. All good stuff. On the other hand, there’s a bit too much suspension of disbelief required (wouldn’t the discovery of the existence of Huck dramatically alter the world??) and the pacing gets a bit too close to laborious on occasion. You find yourself often wishing it would hurry up and get to the point. But saying all that, the good outweighs the ‘bad’, and as long a clearer plotline embeds itself over the next issue or so (and I believe it will), this should turn out okay. 7/10

THE TROOP #2
Writer: Noel Clarke
Art: J. Cassara & Luis Guerrero
Titan $3.99

Stewart R: The first issue was a doozy and this is of an equally high standard as Clarke expands the cast and maintains the mystery. Torrence's story is a painful one, filled with isolation, growing pains and violence, with Clarke ensuring that her quest for vengeance is something the reader can (probably) get behind. This coincides with another powered individual coming under attack from the men in dark shades with high powered weaponry and as things are drawn quickly together this is - and I do hate to draw the comparison here - feeling like a top grade X-Men book. The withholding of motives, the hunting of powered individuals, the tortured histories are all hallmarks of that corner of comics and Clarke is channelling some of that into this fresh, exciting take on the fight to survive in a world that doesn't understand you. We're reaching the halfway point next issue which might be something of a concern after two chapters of introductions, but when you're being provided with high-calibre writing alongside beautiful visuals it's easy to put those concerns on hold. The Troop is certainly the miniseries you should be taking a look at this January! 9/10

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