22 May 2016

Mini Reviews 22/05/2016

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.

CIVIL WAR II #0
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Olivier Coipel & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Events, especially Marvel events, are still a strange beast when it comes to their numbering; the suggestion remains that a #0 issue is not 100% essential, but will still add a lot in terms of laying the groundwork for the bigger story to come. You'd possibly be able to go with the term 'prologue', but, for example, when the publisher whacks a top tier artist on the #0 issue and prices it at a full-fat $4.99 I'm inclined to regard it as the opening chapter proper. So, what we get here is a swift bouncing around four different character perspectives as the various elements that will form Bendis' Civil War storyline begin to show through. I was actually impressed with his opening She-Hulk piece as Jennifer delivers her closing argument in court, defending a former criminal in a case involving entrapment. The second scene Is less impressive as Bendis treads that fine line between real life politics and this comic book world WHEN Rhodey gets a job offer he (and this reader) never saw coming. It honestly feels like Bendis pushing a square peg into a round hole as Rhodey has never fully been portrayed as a leader on the whole, but since the Free Comic Book Day tie-in suggested things may go in a different direction entirely the matter seems a touch moot anyway! From there we get the fairly standard (and oft-repeated) Terrigen Cloud origin sequence which feels like Marvel whipping the bones of the horse 18 months after it keeled over - seriously, has it not dissipated by now?? Carol and Doc Samson's conversation at least feels like Bendis finally showing some prowess with his dialogue between different characters even if the topic of discussion is one that's been followed before. The cliffhanger is quite predictably a prophecy of mass destruction which ties all of the separate threads together to lead us into the 'second start' that Civil War II #1 will inevitably be. To be fair, this proved a far better read than I expected it to be; Bendis is on form and there are no talking heads to be seen, especially when any heads are depicted with the usual fine skills of Olivier Coipel. It's actually something of a surprise that Marvel have roped their star artist in for this one-off appearance in something of a sedate affair, but then that adds further weight to the 'greedy publisher' theories behind releasing #0 issues in the first place. 7/10

ARCHANGEL #1
Writer: William Gibson
Art: Butch Guice, Tom Palmer & Diego Rodriguez
IDW $4.99

James R: On paper, this should be a smash. William Gibson is one of the greatest and most influential authors of the last 30 years and for his first foray into comics he brings us a time-travel tale with characters from a nightmarish alternate 2016 travelling back to post-WW2 Europe to create an alternate future. As a result, my expectations for Archangel were pretty high but this first issue doesn't quite soar. Gibson himself says that the book was initially conceived as a TV series, and it definitely feels that way, featuring some classic TV tropes - the protagonists in a love triangle, the savvy sidekick and the utterly evil villain all feel like US network TV staples. We're also given a huge amount of back matter too, and that includes Butch Guice's original pencil pages. Seeing these made me wish the book had been done in black and white as I feel Rodriguez's colours take away some of the nuance from Guice's art. At the heart of this comic is a really great idea - what if the post-war UFO's were in fact planes from today sent back in time? - but it’s lacking the sophistication of Gibson's novels so far, and in a world where Jonathan Hickman's incredible Pax Romana has already run the same idea on a far grander and more ambitious scale, Archangel's first issue isn't heaven sent. 6/10

SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #7
Writer: Max Landis
Art: Jock & Lee Loughridge
DC $3.99

Matt C: While it’s been mildly erratic in terms of quality (most of it’s been good, some of it has been very good), reaching the final page of this concluding instalment it’s clear that Max Landis has a strong, clear and potent take on the Man of Steel, one that contemporizes the character and mythos but in doing so stays true to the essence of who the character is (please take note Zack Snyder and Warner Bros!). The different-artist-for-each-issue approach has worked wonders and here Jock gets to take on a Superman v Lobo smackdown with impressive results. It’s a decent ending but the last couple of pages are perfect, and if they can manage to extricate Landis from his Twitter feed long enough to write some more Superman tales then DC should do so immediately. 8/10

BRUTAL NATURE #1
Writer: Luciano Saracino
Art: Ariel Olivetti
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Outside of familiar franchises and properties at IDW, I can't remember the last time I picked up one of their fresh, creator-owned titles, but I'm very glad that I took a chance with Brutal Nature. Saracino and Olivetti take us off to 19th Century South America for a tale of Spanish invaders, bloody inquisitions and mystical creatures lurking within the jungle. Saracino combines a simple, effective narration with more detailed, fluid script to set the scene and give a sense of period, casting the Spaniard Conquistadors as religious, despotic villains and the natives as an obstacle to be overcome in their eyes. When it comes to the story's protagonist we don't get a huge view into Ich's workings, but we witness his heroic actions and abilities and also get a window into what sort of personal loss his sacrifice has led to. The real revelation for me is Olivetti's art which quite literally sings with vibrancy on each and every page. I'd really not got on with his style when I gave his run on Cable a go several years ago, but here he's a perfect fit, capturing the setting with flair and employing a rich and deep colour palette that contrasts terrifically well with a masterful use of white space. A brilliant start for Brutal Nature. 9/10

DEPT. H #2
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: There's not an awful lot for me to add on to my fulsome praise of issue one of Dept. H; once again, Matt and Sharlene Kindt's underwater whodunnit is a cut above every other book released last Wednesday. Seeing that it's my pick of the week though, I shall endeavour to find something new to say about this brilliantly plotted and illustrated book. One of the things I love about Matt Kindt's work is that his science fiction ideas are always tempered by wonderfully relatable and real human characters. In Dept. H, the sibling tension between Raj and Mia forms the spine of this issue, and it's realised with subtlety and aplomb. Kindt is arguably in the form of his life at the moment; as well as taking charge of a large chunk of the Valiant universe books, his last three independent works - MIND MGMT, Pastaways and now Dept. H - have all been brimming with ideas. It really looks as if his creativity is as deep as the Mariana Trench. 8/10

MANIFEST DESTINY #19
Writer: Chris Dingess
Art: Matthew Roberts , Tony Akins, Stafano Gaudiano & Owen Gieni
Image $2.99

Matt C: A welcome return for this alt.history series that eases us back into the fictional version of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition by shifting the focus briefly onto an earlier group of adventurers who found the journey more perilous than their successors. The world-building remains excellent and Roberts’ art continues to ground the fantastical via a detailed, realistic approach that brings a certain sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings. The creators are now tackling the most famous cryptid the States has ‘produced’ in this new story arc but the confidence on display is palpable which bodes well for future instalments. 8/10

OLD MAN LOGAN #6
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Andrea Sorrentino & Marcelo Maiolo
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The vengeance-fuelled ride this series opened with didn’t last as long as I’d anticipated but rather than slip down a gear into generic Wolverine tales, Lemire has wisely stuck with the character’s origins in a future that isn’t going to come to pass, and how the character copes with the idea that most events he lived through will never occur. Of course, this being a comic featuring the Ol’ Canucklehead (the very old Ol’ Canucklehead, at that), his inability to take a step back leads to tragic consequences. Lemire writes a taut script but it’s Sorrentino’s moody, evocative art that kicks things up a few more notches so it nestles right up top alongside Marvel’s other premiere books of the moment. 8/10

KARNAK #4
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Roland Boschi & Dan Brown
Marvel $3.99

James R: Sometimes, being a comics fan is gloriously unpredictable. When this series started I absolutely loved it and thought it was a great vehicle for Warren Ellis, but then the delays came and artist Gerardo Zaffino had to drop out. Issue #3 was interesting as it was an Ellis idea-heavy instalment, but #4 has virtually nothing to commend it as a $3.99 book. It's another chapter dominated by a fight, just like in issue #2. Ellis is undoubtedly one of the greatest living writers in the medium (the last few issues of his magnificent series Injection is renewed proof of that) but this feels like him on autopilot, with one scene followed by a plot progression that could have been conveyed in four pages rather than eighteen. As for Boschi's art, I shall just say that it isn't to my aesthetic sensibilities, and I can't help but wonder how this would look with a different artist at the helm. A slight offering in every way, Karnak is currently suffering from greatly diminishing returns. 4/10

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