6 Mar 2016

Mini Reviews 06/03/2016

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.

BLACK WIDOW #1
Writers: Chris Samnee & Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: A welcome if not entirely convincing return to solo book status for Natasha Romanoff. Essentially the entire issue constitutes an extended chases scene as the Black Widow steals something from a helicarrier, resulting in a succession of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on her tail, and the way she fights them off, whatever it is she has taken (that’s not revealed at this point) it’s clearly a matter of life or death for her. As an example of how to use the comic book medium to convey the visual kineticism of a violent pursuit, it’s exceedingly well done, with Samnee’s visuals and Wilson’s colour meshing together nicely, but beyond her martial arts prowess and steely determination, there’s little in the way of characterization on display. You could probably switch around the character fairly easily with little difference to the general direction of the narrative. So overall it’s good, and the possibility of learning what Natasha would go to such lengths to get hold of will at least get me back for another issue, but who she is rather than what she can do needs to be the focus next time. 7/10

THE DISCIPLINE #1
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Leandro Fernández & Cris Peter
Image $2.99


James R: As a comics reader one of the fun aspects of fandom is taking a punt on something new. When you open up a debut issue and it's unexpectedly brilliant or innovative, it's always a blast. Sadly, that's not the case with The Discipline. We're introduced to Melissa Peake:  "Clever, but sexually and emotionally unfulfilled." She meets the mysterious Orlando, also known as Discipline, who for all intents and purposes is involved in an age-old conflict between two forces of as-yet-unclear intent. This battle involves a lot of weird sex though, and strange mythological creatures. As a book that clearly aimed at being erotically charged, it was curiously unsexy, and the mythology aspect feels very played out. In its favour, the art from Leandro Fernández is great, but by the end of the issue I felt no desire to see where it was all going. There may be a market for it, but it's certainly not me. Neither Image of Peter Milligan's finest hour by any means. 4/10

Stewart R: As I mentioned in On The Pull I picked this up on an art-based whim and before I'd even managed to dive into the debut there was already some controversy regarding the cover image dancing around the internet. That made reading this an interesting prospect and having done so I have to say that I can see what Peter Milligan is trying to attempt, I'm just not sure the final product delivers in convincing enough fashion. Behind the veil of sexual and intellectual frustration that Melissa is experiencing lies an evident tale of supernatural battle lines wrapped up in erotic fiction, but it all dances a little too closely to identifiable cliché. The mysterious stranger that is the Discipline is just too damn Fifty Shades Of Grey via Thomas Crown for my liking while the bestial nature of the sexual hallucinations also reminded me of infamous anime Urotsukidoji (it's no way near as explicit I must stress here!) which I'm pretty certain was not the intention. Milligan has opted for mystery over exposition in this debut and sadly I think that doesn't provide quite enough context to the sexual-fantasies depicted on the page by Fernandez. I've a feeling that the hook to The Discipline will be the greater battle to come, but without any definition of what it is and how it will stand out from the packed comic book crowd this feels like something of an opportunity missed. 4/10

OLD MAN LOGAN #3
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Andrea Sorrentino & Marcelo Maiolo
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: Following a sophomore instalment that seemed to take an enjoyable but not entirely essential detour a bit earlier than necessary, this issue gets things back firmly on track. Kate Bishop makes an excellent temporary partner for Logan in Clint Barton’s absence, and their banter is highly entertaining (it helps that Lemire also writes Bishop on a regular basis in All-New Hawkeye). Soretino’s art (the rather clunky cover aside) is excellent; grizzled with a simmering intensity, it’s perfectly attuned to the current mindset of the character. And, while Wolverine has been about as ubiquitous as a character can get in the last couple of decades, this is quite a different take on him: nothing really to live for bar the thirst of revenge. 8/10

THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON #4
Writer: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
DC/Vertigo $3.99


James R: The news that Tom King is the new writer on Batman is certainly cause for celebration. King has so far been the breakout star of 2016, and with his run on The Vision over at Marvel along with this superb book, it's easy to see why. Sheriff Of Babylon continues to be a series that's full of surprise and intrigue. King writes utterly compelling characters who have been inextricably drawn closer together as the murder plot that started the plot off becomes more byzantine. As historians and cultural commentators look back over the events of the early 21st century, and the West’s involvement in the Middle East, one statement continually repeats: "It's complicated." Sheriff Of Babylon captures this feeling perfectly, and after four issues I'm utterly hooked. Mitch Gerads’ art is a perfect fit too, and I loved that we're treated to a peek at his artistic process here - I enjoy  anything that shows the mechanics of creating a comic, and the two pages at the back are a treat. Our friend Billy P has been arguing that Vertigo is now as good as it's ever been, and whereas I don't think I'd go that far, I do think Sheriff Of Babylon is the strongest book the imprint has produced in a while - and I hope it's the start of much more greatness to come from Tom King. 8/10

Matt C: Anyone still under the impression that comics is a juvenile medium not worthy of serious critical analysis ought to have a copy of this book thrust under their nose pretty swiftly. Ostensibly a whodunit of sorts, Sheriff Of Babylon encompasses far more of the political and societal complexities of post-invasion Iraq than I had initially anticipated, taking a mature, unexpectedly broad approach to the situation on the ground in 2004. As should be the case, there are multiple agendas in play and no clear definition of right or wrong, with perhaps only military contractor Chris Henry pursuing a less muddy agenda, as he looks for a killer while those around him have a different set of motivations. Gerards’ art seems to get more sophisticated and realistic as thing progress, and this is probably the best work I’ve seen from him so far. As for Tom King, this is clearly the best evidence yet that he’s about to become a major player, and as a calling card, Sheriff Of Babylon takes some beating. 8/10

VENUS #3
Writer: Rick Loverd
Art: Huang Danlan & Marcio Menyz
BOOM! Studios $3.99


Stewart R: Following on from the hand-over-mouth cliffhanger from last time, we witness the stranded survivors either trying to deal with the graver reality of their situation in any way they can, or in the case of those ignorant of the danger, pulling turmoil and lethal threat ever closer. Loverd has nailed the taut dialogue through every issue, with Captain Manashe's quick promotion causing tense interactions left, right and centre as she tries to keep everyone alive in spite of an evident saboteur amongst the crews' ranks and others with mutinous intent. The menace is great and there's a tangible feeling of claustrophobia and isolation running cover to cover - helped ably by Danlan and Menyz's uncomplicated and subtle artwork. The only niggles for me involve the series' length - there's only one chapter to come and Loverd has played with plenty of plot threads that feel as if they warrant greater investigation and exposure and which likely won't get that as the finale rolls around. Regardless, I'd happily predict that Venus will end with a glorious bang rather than a whimper based on what we've been given so far. Sci-fi drama at its best. 9/10

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