25 Apr 2016

Mini Reviews 24/04/2016

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.

CRIMINAL: TENTH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL EDITION
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $4.99


James R: Long time readers can probably guess what I'll make of this book without reading the review. I've been a massive fan of Brubaker and Phillips' output ever since our EiC, Matt C introduced me to Sleeper many years ago and I’ve never seen them turn in a sub-standard title or issue. They've established themselves as masters of modern comics crime noir, and this lush tenth (tenth!) anniversary special is a fitting salute and a reminder as to why they are so damn good. Once more, we're given a snapshot into the life of the Lawless family - Teeg lawless takes 12 year-old Tracy on a roadtrip to track down a problematic former member of the Hyde gang. As with last year’s equally magnificent Criminal Special Edition one-shot, the action is interspersed with excerpts from the comic that features in the narrative - this time, the terrifically-titled Deadly Hands featuring Fang, the Kung Fu Werewolf. The book perfectly captures the feeling of ‘70s exploitation culture, and it's a heartbreaking tale. The nihilism of Teeg's life begins to infect Tracy's life, and knowing where these characters end up it makes for an unflinching and compelling read. The art from Phillips is superb as always, and Elizabeth Breitwiser's colours are pitch-perfect. Ten years in, this creative team show no signs of stopping - I hope I'm writing another salute to Criminal for the twentieth anniversary. 9/10

Matt C: Ten years of probably the most impressive crime comic to grace the stands in many a year is definitely worth celebrating, as is any chance to get our hands on another issue of Criminal (they’re something of a rarity these days, with no regular series on the cards for the foreseeable future).  As expected, this tale of a young Tracy Lawless on the road with his errant father Teeg is excellent, finding true humanity in between the bursts of bloody violence. The comic-within-a-comic device works wonders again;  the theme of a certain lifestyles precluding lasting relationships resonates, and the sense of doors of opportunity remaining forever closed is powerfully realised. Phillips and Breitweiser’s work is outstanding, and Phillips draws bad dudes puffing on cigarettes better than anybody, the bruised, romanticised poises almost prompting this ex-smoker to light up again! Almost. The wise amongst will have picked up the magazine-sized retro ‘Deadly Hands of Criminal’ version for an extra dollar and will be hoping we don’t have to wait too long to see Criminal return to the shelves again. 9/10

DIVINITY II #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn & David Baron
Valiant $3.99


Stewart R: Valiant have been doing some fine work with their 'mini-event' projects and last year's Divinity was a true highlight of this endeavour; Kindt's glimpse into an elseworld Soviet mission to the edge of the known cosmos dropped engaging emotional writing into a Cold War-tinged plot that briefly exploded as the rest of the Valiant universe came into play. This new, four-part sequel will expand upon that initial mission and the other two Cosmonauts who accompanied Abram Adams into the depths of space. Kindt once again dances back and forth between past and present as he expands upon Valentina Volkov's background, introducing us to an individual far more content to follow the Soviet socialist ideal and far more disturbed by what she discovers upon her return to a Westernised Earth. It's a great counter to the individualistic, 'selfish' and intimate journey Abram took and allows Kindt to even dabble with 'real-world' political examinations regarding 'The Motherland' - once again ably rendered by Hairsine, Winn and Baron on premium form - which I have to say jar a little, but that's only because it hits the mark with an awkward excellence that certainly makes you wonder where may Kindt is going to take this next. 8/10

DEPT. H #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artists: Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99


James R: I have been a huge fan of Matt Kindt after discovering his work in Revolver, and since then everything he has produced has been solid gold. I was a fervent champion of his masterful series Mind MGMT, and when that concluded, I was excited to see what would come next. The answer is Dept. H, which kicks off with a taught and accomplished first issue which immediately hooks in the reader. Mia Hardy travels seven miles down to the ocean floor, to Department H headquarters, a research base, and now a crime scene.  Mia's father has been murdered there, and the killer can only be one of the seven members of the crew. It's a fantastic idea, it showcases in a single issue all the things that make Matt Kindt such a special talent - it's a wonderful hybrid of murder-mystery, sci-fi and a snapshot of Mia's mind all in 24 pages. Kindt's art is great as always, but the beautiful watercolours added by Sharlene Kindt suit the book perfectly, adding another dimension to Matt's pencils. It's great when a highly-anticipated book lives up to expectations, and after a single issue, Dept. H is already essential reading. 9/10

KARNAK #3
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Roland Boschi & Dan Brown
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: A great cover from Aja can’t mask the problems with the way this series is developing. It almost reads like an Ellis parody, such is the frequency of his stylistic tics that litter each page. His heroes, or to be more precise, his antiheroes, are often arrogant and aloof, but Karnak comes off as a pontificating prick here, and you wonder why S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t rope in a more pliable agent to assist them for this particular problem. I think Ellis is one of the medium’s very best scribes, but sometimes it seems like he’s on autopilot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become an irritant rather than a positive (see the final couple of panels of the issue for a case in point).  The art’s fine, suitably adept at expressing the mopey vibe, but delays aside, this isn’t a series that really offers enough reasons for further investigation. 5/10

James R: Now Gerrado Zaffino is no longer the artist on Karnak I hope the book's release schedule steadies up, as reading this third issue, I was reminded of why I loved the debut so much. This chapter is almost Ellis-by-the-numbers, with the tick boxes as: 1. Our protagonist is arch and condescending (but in a winning way); 2. We get some esoteric cultural references (16th century occultist Robert Fludd); 3. The body of a giant monster; and 4. An eye-popping action sequence. I can understand that following the delay, Marvel would want to get the book out as quickly as possible, but I'm not sure Boschi was the right choice of artist. His work has echoes of Zaffino's but it doesn't quite work for me. I still enjoyed it as a read - I don't think I've ever not enjoyed a Warren Ellis book - but I think it would go up a notch with a different aesthetic. Ellis makes this worth the price of admission, but my passion for the Karnak has dimmed a little since that great first issue. Here's hoping that a more regular release schedule helps reignite my zeal. 7/10

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #6
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Ramon Perez & Ian Herring
Marvel $3.99


Matt C: I wasn’t been aware that this was to be the final issue of All-New Hawkeye so it was something of a shock to find out in the back pages that writer Jeff Lemire had told the story he wanted to tell and it was time for him to move on. That’s fair enough, as the guy has plenty on his plate at the moment, but I’m still sorry to see both him and Roman Perez leave what had become an essential follow up to Matt Fraction’s acclaimed run. Lemire had added new layers to the characters of Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, providing enlightening flashbacks to their early years and how choices made then began to solidify who they would eventually become. Perez carried on the visual aesthetic laid down by David Aja in the previous volume for the contemporary scenes, but those set in the past employ a painterly style that brilliantly conveys the essence of memory on the page. A title that will be missed, as it was one of Marvel’s best, but hopefully Barton and Bishop will return to the spotlight sooner rather than later. 8/10

THE TROOP #5
Writer: Noel Clarke
Art: J. Cassara & Luis Guerrero
Titan Comics $3.99


Stewart R: Okay, so it's miniseries finale time and based on what came in the four issues preceding this I'd be happy for Titan to give the green light to Clarke, Cassara and Guerrero in order to read more stories from this interesting comic book universe. That said, this climax clearly suffers from the need to cram in as much as possible in a limited page count. When the inside cover pages are given over to story you generally know that either a) you're getting great value for money, or b) there might be a problem with wrapping things up in good order within the confines of the issue. Clarke has the assembled team of Edwards' titular 'Troop' costume up for a big rescue within the very first page and from there things for the most part, descend into a relatively by-the-numbers superhero dust-up as fists meet chins and bullets meet brain matter. Clarke does manage to squeeze the benefits of his earlier character work in between the action and thankfully it's the likes of Jade and Trace's sisterly antagonism that keeps things intriguing, along with the suggested grander battle at play. Cassara's art seems to suffer somewhat under the weight of it all - one ejector seat panel feels really out of place - but there are glimpses of the high marks found in the rest of the series too. The threads of possibility are clear to see come the question marked end, and while this finale clearly could have benefited from being spread across two chapters to allow it to flow a little smoother and explore everything Clarke brings to the table in a little more depth, it does round out a fine opening arc with a (crowded) bang rather than a whimper. More please, Titan! 6/10

HUCK #6
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
Image $3.99


Matt C: Another instance of Mark Millar coming up with a terrific idea, starting things off very nicely, and then heading off in a direction that does the initial setup a great disservice, resorting to clich├ęd villainy instead of freshness and invention. The saving grace is Albuquerque’s art, which fits in some appealing emotion and compassion into the imagery that patches over the lack of those traits in the script. It promised much but failed to deliver, which is perhaps a phrase that can be applied to too many Millar projects these days. 4/10

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