21 Feb 2016

Mini Reviews 21/02/2016

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.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #1
Writer: David Walker
Art: Sanford Greene & Lee Loughridge
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: In much the same way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe swiftly began to influence the comic material, it seems that the success of the company's televisual programming arm will likewise have an effect on the related books in the canon. Here we get the reunion of longtime friends and former Heroes For Hire, Luke Cage and Danny Rand, with a 21st Century vibe (no tiara's - that of course gets a mention) and a steady, measured pacing. The boys are back together, doing a favour for an old friend which quickly heads south in fitting, head-busting fashion. Having followed these characters in books through the past 5-10 years it's slightly jarring to have them 'reset' to some degree - this certainly doesn't feel like the Power Man who led the Thunderbolts or the Iron Fist who saved K'un-L'un from utter destruction in Kaare Andrews' recent series. There's a soft tone to proceedings with Danny being the aloof goofball and Luke the solemn family man and straight talker, Walker delivering banter-filled dialogue that convinces us these guys are true BFFs through thick and thin. The plot is not breaking any new ground and the pacing suggests a slower, street-level burn to plot development as we might expect from eventual TV series for the leading pair, but it's solid at least both in writing and art departments and this should be a fine entry point for people who may be new to Power Man and Iron Fist. 7/10

SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #4
Writer: Max Landis
Art: Jae Lee & June Chung
DC $3.99

James R: This series has been wildly inconsistent so far, but man alive, it is utterly compelling. Following an awkward issue #3 which saw Clark Kent masquerading as Bruce Wayne, Max Landis gets things back on track here, reimagining Clark's first meeting with - deep breath - Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne. It could have been a disaster, with too many characters fighting for space, or a clunky tale as it was last time out. Fortunately it's a great read which shows how much Landis understands (and loves) these characters. Luthor's monologue alone is worth the cover price, highlighting that - as with all nemeses - he represents a twisted version of Superman's motivation, but also showing us just why he will hate the Man of Steel so intently. The meeting with the Dynamic Duo was just as entertaining, and beautifully illustrated by the distinctive pencils of Jae Lee. It's not perfect by any means - there was still one section that made me grimace at how 'un-Superman' it was - but in all honesty, this was the book that captivated me the most this week, and immediately provoked me to reread it - and that's always the sign of a great book for me. 8/10

Matt C: The first issue of this series was solid, the second exceptional, but the third felt like an inconsequential misstep in comparison. Perhaps its importance will reveal itself as things progress, but even in this chapter the main stumble is when it links itself to the preceding instalment. But that’s the only real criticism I can direct at what is another stellar issue, with Landis taking a closer look at several figures that will become pivotal figures in Clark’s life, the most prominent being Lois, Lex and a certain Dark Knight. There are a number of standout scenes, but perhaps the sequence where Luthor lays out exactly why he’s so ‘exceptional’ is the strongest, the mix of ego and genius being particularly well conveyed. We also get yet another version of Clark/Superman’s first meeting with Bruce/Batman, and it works brilliantly because it leans heavily into some of the familiar iconography but also because Lee’s artwork, which seems to be softer than usual, is particularly adept at converting the potent ideas in the script into equally potent images (especially that final page). Another one in the ‘win’ column then. 8/10

MIGHTY THOR #4
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Aaron continues to display an enviable scripting versatility, bringing all these outlandish characters to three-dimensional life, from Asgardians to Elves to cancer patients possessed by thunderous abilities. But this is still a visual medium, with words only taking things so far, and it generally falls to the artist to bring the story to life in a way that will fully connect… which brings me to Russell Dauterman’s work on Mighty Thor. Most people who’d come across his output before will probably agree that he’s upped his game considerably here, but for many their introduction to his talents came through this title (and the previous volume), and I think the reaction must be one of gradually increasing astonishment at the quality of the imagery on display. The searing energy and intensity of the vibrant compositions is something to behold and if it wasn’t obvious before then it should be after this sterling example of artistic brilliance: Dauterman is heading to the A-list. Aaron’s contribution is of course utterly essential (as is Matthew Wilson’s for that matter) but for me, this issue brought home with full clarity that Dauterman is heading straight to the top. 9/10

AMERICAN MONSTER #2
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Juan Doe
AfterShock Comics $3.99

James R: I was really impressed with the debut issue of American Monster and nothing has changed with this second chapter. I'm reviewing this as I'm a big believer in promoting publishers outside of the Big Two. Azzarello and Doe's pitch-black crime tale focuses mainly on Deputy Gary Downs as he begins to investigate the mysterious scarred stranger, and just what he wants in the nameless American town which serves as the series' backdrop. Once again, there's great work from Juan Doe, whose colours reminded me of Jason Latour's amazing work on Southern Bastards, and gives the book a distinctive and rich look. I absolutely love me a great crime tale, and with The Fade Out having recently ended I'm pleased that American Monster has filled the gap. If you like your books to focus on the darker side of human nature, then Azzarello and Doe are perfect guides away from the light. 8/10

SEX CRIMINALS #14
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Chip Zdarsky
Image $3.50

Matt C: I still admire the braveness and honesty at the heart of this ‘mature readers’ series but now, 14 issues in, I’ve reached a point where its appeal has waned significantly and I no longer feel it deserves a place on my pull-list. The delays between each issue haven’t helped matters, but even then the narrative is moving forward at such a crawl, digressing more often than not, that it’s ceased to be properly engaging. Worse, many of those digressions are of the irritatingly-smug-meta-interlude variety, and the feeling of creators being enormously pleased with themselves veritably wafts from the page. I wish it wasn’t this way as if there were more books with this kind of braveness appearing on the stands then the industry would be stronger in the long term, but unfortunately Sex Criminals has moved into annoying rather than entertaining territory. 5/10

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