17 Apr 2016

Mini Reviews 17/04/2016

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.

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Greg Smallwood & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: If there’s any character ripe for throwing into an insane asylum and calling into question his entire history (and sanity), it’s him-with-the-multiple-personalities, Marc Spector. Lemire takes the idea and has an awful lot of fun presenting Spector as someone who may not have been given special powers by a moon god named Khonshu but is instead a raving lunatic who’s imagined the whole thing in his head. It’s hardly an original approach but the writer keeps us guessing (even when we know deep down what’s going to turn out to be the truth) and he’s helped along into creating that overall vibe of doubt thanks to some wonderfully inventive artistry from Smallwood and some deep, vibrant colouring from Bellaire. This may sound like a clichéd pull-quote, but I genuinely think you’d be crazy to skip this series. 8/10

Stewart R: Outside of Deadpool it could be argued that the one character who evidently exists within - but could potentially transcend - the boundaries of the Marvel Universe is Marc Spector/Moon Knight. In recent years it's been constantly suggested that Spector is unhinged to the point where what is real and what is hallucination or figment of imagination is far more difficult to identify for (and around) him and in this latest attempt at an ongoing series, Jeff Lemire appears to be tackling this very concept head on. The magnificence here is that Lemire leaves everything a possibility - either Marc Spector is at the mercy of some nefarious psychological plot to restrain him and his Moon Knight persona, or he may indeed be insane. As the reader you suspect foul play, you want him to fight his way free, reclaim what he knows to be true, beat the villain, but there remains an element of doubt throughout (Marc's own wavering faith in his fractured memory helps push this) and the whole One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest vibe of the asylum, superbly rendered by Smallwood in fine form, adds to the uncertainty. The key as ever with Moon Knight books is whether the series survives beyond its opening story, but if the following four issues of this arc turn out to be as well written and illustrated as this then we might see Moon Knight push onwards and upwards as a Marvel property. Buy now, read now, Kohnshu commands! 9/10

Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Tony Harris
Marvel $4.99

James R: I really wasn't going to get this - despite being a huge Star Wars fan, I felt the 'Learn how C-3PO got his red arm!' might be a gimmick too far for me. But it was a very quiet week on my pull-list, and the creative team behind this one-shot certainly made it worth a shot. I'm really pleased I did, as even though it didn't pass my 'It feels like Star Wars' test, (it was more reminiscent of a 2000 AD tale transplanted to the Star Wars universe) James Robinson does a great job of engaging with one of the more abstract questions raised by Star Wars - 'What is the cognitive status of the droids?' They're treated as sentient beings by the organic characters, yet these same characters think nothing of having the robot's minds and memories wiped. As C-3PO leads a group of droids across a hellish world in order to get a First Order droid - and the information it holds - back to the Resistance, the issue is explored with brevity and insight by Robinson (who certainly seems on a hot streak following his remarkable work on Airboy) and illustrated with an almost European sensibility by Tony Harris. Harris' work here is incredibly different from his work on Ex Machina, and certainly looks strikingly different from any of Marvel's other Star Wars books. This comic resonated with me, and I found myself picking it up and re-reading it twice since Wednesday. That's always the gold standard for me, and for fellow Force aficionados, this is an essential purchase. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Garry Brown & Dave McCaig
Image $3.99

James R: Brian Wood's previous Norse-based series Northlanders was always a little uneven for me. I loved that it continued to feel fresh by starting anew with a different time, setting and cast of characters with every arc, but this unpredictability also lead to an inconsistency - some arcs were strikingly memorable, some were instantly forgettable. With the start of Black Road, Brian Wood is back among the Norsefolk, and introducing us to Magnus the Black - a fearsome fixer, who accepts a dangerous contract to accompany a Christian Cardinal from Rome along the Black Road on a mysterious quest North. Wood wastes no time in soaking the tale in violence and blood, and hooked me in with the promise of intrigue involving the early church. Garry Brown (Wood's creative partner from The Massive) imbues the tale with a suitably rugged sensibility, and whereas I can't say that it knocked me out - having read a lot of Northlanders, this felt very familiar - Wood certainly got my attention with this opening chapter. The lands of ice and snow look like they've got plenty more tales to tell - we'll see how much gold Black Road has to offer in the coming months. 7/10

Matt C:  Brian Wood returns to the era of the Vikings in grizzled fashion with the first issue of Black Road, and while it does feature elements that could be described as familiar (hard bastard gets reluctantly roped into mission, buried emotions come into play) there’s enough going on to hint at a powerful future (and of course Wood is a name we know we can trust by now).  What makes the most impact at this stage is the atmospheric artwork, full of danger and violence (even in scenes where there’s only the suggestion of it). Brown and McCaig make a wonderful team, and if Wood takes his characters on an increasingly perilous journey then the visual aspect of this book is likely to soar to great heights. 7/10

Writer: Ray Fawkes
Art: Marco Failla & Stefani Rennee
AfterShock $1.99

Matt C: With a reduced introductory price it’s generally worth taking a look at something you may have passed over otherwise, particularly something from an up-and-coming new publisher that’s attracting a lot of impressive talent. What you don’t want, even at a lower price, is something that smacks of a derivative play on well-worn tropes featuring a bunch of conmen on a job who barely register thanks to some paper-thin characterizations.  The ending of this otherwise dull debut issue hints at a major twist on the horizon, but if you reached that page with any excitement for what’s to come, you’re clearly a more tolerant man than I am. 4/10

Stewart R: So a new book from AfterShock comics and Ray Fawkes and Marco Failla are going for that criminal/grifter/scammer team book vibe where a talented bunch of folks, each with a particular skill set, attempt to turn a profit through duplicity of, theft from, and the occasional murder of other questionable individuals. The first thing I'll say is that in Failla and Rennee's hands the book has a premium grade visual feel that draws the eye in from the opening page. Failla's angular characterisation provides a plethora of terrific facial expressions as events on the high seas take several strange, occasionally tense turns as guns are drawn and subterfuge becomes apparent. The biggest problem, rather sadly, is that the whole read doesn't offer up anything that I haven't seen in a similarly plotted movie or TV series since Ocean's Eleven graced our screens back in 2001. The one interesting plot hook is left for the inevitable cliffhanger on the final page, but by that point the cliché has irked a little too much and undoes any desire to stump up a full $3.99 to see what that mystery might turn into. Tackling the story from a different perspective, possibly weaving the mystery a little harder throughout, might have potentially saved this from leaving my pull-list at this very early juncture. 4/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Chris Sprouse, Walden Wong, Ty Templeton & Ive Svorcina
Image $3.50

Matt C: A series that gets continuously more impressive as it nears the finish line, Jupiter’s Circle doesn’t convey the epic sprawl of Jupiter’s Legacy but there’s a more intimate approach that works in its favour. Yes, we are in Watchmen territory again, with a bunch of superfolk laden with personal (and personality) issues, but it’s still a concept that withstands further exploration if the talent is there (see also the excellent, lamented C.O.W.L.). And the talent definitely is here: this is some of Millar’s best recent work and the art team has turned in some solid, Silver Age inspired imagery. I understand why some people may have avoided this due to the absence of  the masterful illustrations of Frank Quietly from the parent series, but Jupiter’s Circle is a more than worthy addition to the mythos of this fictional universe. 8/10

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