20 Mar 2016

Mini Reviews 20/03/2016

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.

THE 13TH ARTIFACT #1
Writer: Amit Chauhan
Artists: Eli Powell & Andrew Elder
Image/Top Cow $3.99

James R: I decided to take a look at this as - once again - I had a very quiet week in terms of what titles I was picking up, and the fact that this was a one-shot and an SF book sealed the deal. Chauhan and Elder are the winners of Top Cow's 2015 talent hunt and with 13th Artifact, it's easy to see why. It's a confidently-told tale, and beautifully illustrated - it focuses on an astronaut stranded on a nightmarish parallel Earth as she attempts to discover just why this planet has become so crushed. If anything, its one-shot status limits it - Chauhan gives us so much detail and explication that the ending feels truncated as a result. I was also expecting a Twilight Zone-esque twist that never came, and as such it read more like a pilot for a potential series than a self-contained short story. The real highlight though is the work of Eli Powell - his art is eerily reminiscent of the great Sean Murphy, and that's no bad thing; he brings the same level of detail and atmosphere to his pages that Murphy does, and I'd certainly say that he's marked himself out as one to watch. A refreshing change of pace in a quiet week - I'd love to see more new creators and talent be given one-shot chances like this. 7/10

SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #5
Writer: Max Landis
Art: Francis Manapul
DC $3.99

Matt C: There has been a bump or two along the way, but this miniseries is shaping up to be arguably one of the best variations on how a ‘Strange Visitor From Another World!’ became a ‘Man Of Steel!’ yet seen, and certainly one of the best Superman tales to hit the stands in the last few years. This instalment gets into Clark’s first forays out as a superhero, a makeshift suit hinting at what’s to come (and inspired by the events of the last chapter) and a realisation that there’s an upscaling of threats, as well as a confirmation of who is archnemesis is likely to be. Landis has a firm grasp of both the lead character and his supporting cast, providing insight that, while not original, has enough detail and observation to make it feel essential. Manupal’s art is a delight, and his rendition of Lois in particular is one of the most striking I’ve seen in a while. With this and the surprisingly great Dark Knight III, I have a good feeling about DC’s future once again. 8/10

James R: For whatever good my small fanboy voice can do in this vast online community, I hope DC hear this: GIVE LANDIS AND MANAPUL AN ONGOING TITLE! There, that's better! It's fair to say that so far American Alien has been hit and miss, but the hits have been awesome. Issue #4 was certainly the high-point of the series, and it's interesting to see that rather leaping on years (as has been done thus far) this issue is almost a direct continuation of its predecessor, and it's all the better for it. Taking Batman's stolen cowl, we see Clark's first steps as a superhero, and his first run-in with Parasite. That's all secondary to the real gold here: Landis shows again that he can write the hell out of Lex Luthor - I can't remember the last time a writer had Superman's nemesis down to such a tee. The sparks that fly between the two were a blast to read, and I immediately wished there would be more of this in an ongoing series. We've said throughout that American Alien has had an A-list roster of artists, but personally, Francis Manapul's work has been the best to date, and the best fit for this incarnation of Superman. Manapul's art on Flash was definitely one of the high points of the New 52, and he shines again in these pages. Great stuff, and it's my sincere hope that this won't be the last time these two talents join forces - this is a total treat for fans of the Man of Steel. 8/10

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #2
Writer: David Walker
Art: Sanford Green & Lee Loughridge
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: After a steady debut, issue #2 of Power Man And Iron Fist follows up with a 'more of the same' recipe and sadly, for me, it has me asking 'is this it?'. Once again Luke and Danny bumble their way into a brawl, constantly bicker and banter about whether they are or are not teaming up, and the more interesting moments come with the villainous support cast who don't quite get chance to make a lingering impression. You get the feeling from Walker's script that Luke is the level-headed thinker of the pair, but his constant denial about getting the Heroes for Hire back together grows tired real quick, as does his inability to make Danny realise that they've been set up (which takes an absolute age and makes me start to dislike Danny more than I should). It is possible to make the hero or heroes the butt of the joke and for it to remain jovial and compelling - just read Nick Spencer's Ant-Man books for clear, varied evidence - but Power Man And Iron Fist just reads like a one joke compendium presently. I'm sure some will like it for its lighthearted nature, but it's just too darn light on everything for me at this juncture. 4/10

HUCK #5
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
Image $3.50

Matt C: As can often be the case with Mark Millar’s creator-owned projects, a great concept starts off well before veering off in a direction that does it no favours whatsoever. What was interesting about a town collectively keeping the superpowered individual in their midst a secret, only to have his identity revealed to the wider world, makes way for a generic villain with a nefarious plan to obtain power. It immediately robs it of any originality and we get a variation of a scenario we've seen played out countless times before. There’s still something appealing about the warmth and innocence of the title character, and Albuquerque’s artwork remains confident and steady, but unless it does something majorly unexpected in next issue’s finale, this will have to get marked up as another case of Millar not converting a great idea into a great story. 6/10

INJECTION #8
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

James R: Given Warren Ellis' turbulent relationship with the concept of a regular monthly book, there's part of me that wants to simply accumulate the issues of Injection and then read them in one great run as and when the series finishes. Because of the nature of the plot, I feel that Injection would be even better as a self-contained graphic novel, but then the thought of leaving this title untouched is too much for me to bear. Once again, to pick up a Warren Ellis book is one of fandom's great pleasures, and I'm always amazed at how he fuses highbrow ideas with a great understanding of how comics work as a visual medium. In this issue, there's a magnificent two-page sequence where the Injection team's Sherlock Holmes analogue Headland explains how detection requires emotion and reason via a series of panels which illustrate his increasingly adventurous journey through human sexuality. It's every bit as startling as you'd expect, and there are only a few writers with the aplomb to pull it off (and arguably he is the only one who can get laughs out of it too). Ellis has a perfect partner for this book with Declan Shalvey, whose art straddles the gulf between the everyday and the extraordinary with an expert touch, and as with Jason Howard on Trees, his work fits to such an extent that it's hard to imagine another artist doing it so well. I'm off to make sacrifices to these isles' ancient and arcane gods in the hope that the book continues to come out on time - it's undoubtedly one of the finest comics being published today. 9/10

LOW #12
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini & Dave McCaig
Image $3.99

Matt C: The first few pages of this issue contain perhaps the most exhilarating and breathtaking sequence I’ve seen in a comic so far in 2016. It’s tense, and beautifully rendered by Tocchini, but instead of slipping down a gear after such an opening, Remender opts to go in a surprising and unexpected direction, but one that evidences the creativity and genius that’s central to this title, alongside the core theme of hope against the odds. As I’ve mentioned previously, the kinetic, intense narratives of the likes of Black Science, Deadly Class and Tokyo Ghost garner much attention (and deservedly so, of course) but it could well be that Low is quietly following its own distinctive path in such a way that it's actually finding itself in the position of being the best of the (very fine) bunch. A consistent, resonant delight. 9/10

EXTRAORDINARY X-MEN #8
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, Victor Ibanez & Sotocolor
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Marvel are fully embracing their revisit to stories and plots of the past at the moment. Civil War II is of course heading our way in light of the new Captain America movie out in May, and, in spite of the odd previous friction between Marvel and Fox, the comics publisher is clearly jumping on the Apocalypse bandwagon with the First Mutant making his celluloid debut soon. To his credit, Lemire wraps the setup into his current Extraordinary plotlines quite smoothly; Storm is struggling to keep the X-Haven ship steering a straight course, Colossus is training new students into accomplished X-Men, and a new mutant signature requires attention and turns into something far more dangerous upon investigation. Annnnd… cue the swirly time travel shtick. Sure, there's nothing new or inventive to be seen here as things quickly steamroll into an evident Age Of Apocalypse nod, but I have to say it's a fine nostalgia trip, with sturdy dialogue from Lemire and even finer art from Ramos, Olazaba and Delgado who appear to have hit their stride (save for one strange panel with Ororo and Logan). Personally I'd like Lemire to dig a little deeper into the tensions between Storm and Forge, and there's the argument that focusing on a few characters at a time and scaling back a touch on the number and length of fight scenes might help give this book a unique hook in Lemire's hands - the backup story with Magick and Sapna is written well and clearly attempts to do this, but feels too detached from the main story at this time. Regardless of little bumps, this is still a strong X-book on the whole at a time when my pull-list is incredibly light on mutant mayhem. 8/10

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