29 May 2016

Mini Reviews 29/05/2016

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.

DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Various
DC $2.99

Matt C: As someone who bailed out on the New 52 fairly early on I was hopeful that this issue would provide a gateway back into the DC Universe because, to be honest, I’ve missed have a regular dose of Batman, Superman et al on my pull-list. The last time I really loved something that was a solid part of the DCU was Flashpoint, and that actually factors in heavily here, the implication being something went wrong following the shifting of the timeline after that event. And yes, it doesn’t take much to see that as essentially a sort of stealth apology for the New 52 from the people behind the New 52 (and at this point I’m not sure if this is brave or foolish, but I’m leaning towards the former). Geoff Johns wraps all this up in an engaging tale of desperation as a character with knowledge of what should have been attempts to convince various parties they’re living the wrong life. That will probably sound a fairly familiar premise to those who’ve read more than a handful of comics, but Johns knows these characters better than most and has knack for making space time continuum dimensional madness palpable thanks to the way he hooks into the emotional cores of his characters. There’s a reveal towards the end that will doubtless get the hackles up for some, and how it’ll will factor in longterm may prove to be a problem, but as way of beckoning back lapsed readers (complete with the read-between-the-lines apology) I felt it did its job well. Thanks to Johns’ (and the artists) input it’s resolutely a DC comic book, but it’s a DC comic book that offers an optimistic vision of the future. And it’s about time. 8/10

James R: Oddly enough, my thoughts on Rebirth were perfectly articulated in the pages of another book this week. In the back matter of Joe Casey's still-excellent Sex, the writer reflects on the 'Big Two' of Marvel and DC, and says: "The content is the same old shit we've seen a million times before. There's just no new spin on an old IP that's going to make us feel like we're ten years old again." The entire essay is great, but there Casey hits the nail on the head for me. As a man fast approaching 40, there is the realisation that reading new spins, new takes or relaunches of whole lines is akin to drinking from a rapidly-drying well. If nothing else, Geoff Johns has done a fine job in galvanising readers for this book - it's dominated the online community this week, and I imagine it will do so for a while to come, but as I read it I was overcome with a sense of ennui: it really is the same old, same old. It's illustrated beautifully, and Gary Frank's pages are particularly great, but the bottom line is that it's not a very interesting read. This rebirth feels more like a reincarnation, and beyond the titles I would have picked up on the strengths of the creative teams, there's nothing here that makes me want to pick up more DC books. 5/10

Billy P: Former DC editor and steward of the Silver Age revival of superheroes, Julius Schwartz, once opined that "every ten years the universe needs an enema’". Given that the previous ‘crisis’ - instigated by the events of Flashpoint which led into to the New 52 - occurred less than five years ago, the intervals between respective reboots, revivals, relaunches, rebirths, and other strategies of regeneration have shortened. Part of this is due to the state of the superhero comic industry as one imperilled by a declining readership, so much so that Comics Studies’ scholars (yes, that’s a real academic discipline!) have described the contemporary landscape as a ‘subcultural ghetto’. But, also, that regeneration has always been an intrinsic feature of superhero narratives. Indeed, one of the principle factors of superhero longevity is that regeneration and revision is such a fundamental characteristic of the medium’s DNA and survival code. (Siegel and Schuster’s Superman origin story in Action Comics #1, for example, was rebooted less than a year after its publication). As a comics’ scholar, my own doctoral thesis and (shameless plug!) forthcoming book critically examines the reboot phenomenon in comics and film so you can see why DC Universe Rebirth is of special interest for my academic work. Like other crises, Rebirth aims to explain and rationalise these latest narrative tinkerings, not to reboot the universe, but ‘deboot’ it by subsuming DC’s vast history within an all-encompassing continuity. Now, if you’re like me and enjoy these romps through the multiverse, Rebirth certainly doesn’t disappoint. Geoff Johns is firing on all cylinders here and the result is a glorious mishmash of DC history with the Flash at the centre (again). Not only that, but Johns manages to inject the story with a dose of emotion and melodrama, especially between Wally West and Barry Allen. These various crisis-level-extinction events are also commentaries on DC’s publishing history, and Rebirth functions as a kind of in-universe apology for the New 52 (as pointed out to me by PCG’s Commander-In-Chief, Matt C). As usual, it’s all very ‘meta’, so, if you’ve been diagnosed as suffering from the anxiety condition known as ‘event-fatigue’ (or even ‘reboot/ relaunch fatigue’), then you’ll be pleased to know that Rebirth is a jolly jaunt and an optimistic re-evaluation of DC Comics continuity in the new millennium. Yes, Convergence was awful stuff, and ‘DCYou’ was a misstep (not to mention the sheer number of continuity issues instigated by the New 52), but Rebirth may be the course correction that you’re looking for. With the added bonus of 80-pages for $2.99, you must pick this up. Only time will tell if this repairs the stress fractures in the DC Universe before a new crisis looms on the horizon. But for the first time in over a decade, I’m feeling optimistic and hopeful. 9/10

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Jesus Saiz
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: I hadn’t initially intended to pick this up (it’s been a long while since a Captain America book has had a place on pull-list) but all the controversy surrounding it was loud enough that I wanted to see what the fuss was about for myself. The cliffhanger reveal - which I won’t spoil here, but chances are you’ve seen it elsewhere already – does what a great cliffhanger should do: take you by surprise, leave you asking questions, and have you eager to see what happens next. The hoopla that erupted online is baffling to those well versed in superhero storytelling as clearly everything is not what it seems, and the conclusions some are drawing prove to be baseless as there’s no evidence in the actual comic to back up their claims. I guess some people need to fill their monthly outrage quota. What’s far more interesting is how Spencer handles the Red Skull’s rhetoric and radicalization of the vulnerable, referring to refuges as "an invading army" in Europe, playing into fears that seem to be plucked straight from contemporary tabloid headlines. Your tolerance of real-world hot topics in the middle of a story involving superpowered people in spandex may vary, but it works here effectively due to the characters and ideologies in play. Spencer isn't doing anything drastically different from Cap/Skull clashes of the past, but he’s found a new, intriguing angle to approach it from, an angle that has caused a number of unnecessary thinkpieces and thoughtless tweets but also, inadvertently, got me on board and excited to see where all this is headed. 8/10

WEIRDWORLD #6
Writer: Sam Humphries
Art: Mike Del Mundo & Marco D'Alfonso
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: 'All good things come to an end' and 'why must the good die young?'; two phrases oft used and very much on the money here when applied to Humphries and Del Mundo's work on Weirdworld. This sixth chapter is sadly the last - Humphries' exclusivity deal with DC likely plays a part along with assumed middling readership figures - and, while it does feel just a touch hurried in the final beat to get us to some form of open ended conclusion, the interaction between Morgan Le Fay and Rebecca is dipped in a raw emotional energy that instantly dissolves the antagonism between them and shows once again that this was far more than a simple clash between good and evil. Weirdworld seemingly makes victims of many trapped within it and Humphries does a fine job of allowing us a glimpse behind the vengeful visage of Morgan at someone simply trying to save the one they love. Throughout this series it's been refreshing to see Rebecca almost come across as a younger shadow of Morgan, her driven determination to get home often seeing her shrug off responsibility to those she encounters and potentially putting further chaos into the mix for those that call the physics-warping land their home. This creative duo have provided us with one of the best examples of a magical, whirlwind roadtrip in comic book form that has been as rich in character as it has been beautiful to look at. Kudos very much due to them both! 9/10

DIVINITY II #2
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn & David Baron
Valiant $3.99

Stewart R: With the character work out of the way in the first issue, Kindt now shifts things up a gear to the real time problem as Myshka's return to Earth has seen her set about righting the evident wrongs she perceives in the Westernised world and the fallen Soviet ideal which she stands for. I'm quite relieved that the cliffhanger panel involving Putin at the end of the last issue didn't end up being a continued theme this time around as Kindt elects instead to show how Myshka has been influencing Russia's wider rise over the course of a few months and brings MI-6 and some familiar Valiant Universe faces into the mix to establish just what is going on and struggle to find a fool proof plan of attack. I personally love the way that Kindt goes about establishing Divinity and Myshka's powerset, allowing Hairsine moments of jaw-dropping greatness with splash pages depicting tanks being shredded, but also subtler, drawn-out motions in the script that establish their potential to affect time and space and the fabric of history as a result. The battle from here will likely ebb and flow, but with Kindt's ability to throw radical elements into the mix I'm expecting a good amount of unpredictability in the two chapters to come. Another win for Valiant beckons. 8/10

TOKYO GHOST #7
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
Image $3.99

James R: This has been a truly spectacular series that has lived up to the billing. Before the first issue, the idea of Rick Remender teaming up with Sean Murphy seemed like an incredibly good one, and so it has proved to be, with both men at the top of their respective games in this wildly inventive book. The nefarious Mr Flak makes plans to set sail for Tokyo on a vessel that's part warship, part pleasuredome, but Debbie has returned to L.A. to exact revenge. Every page of this book is a feast for the eyes, and Remender's script seems more like a terrifying portent of the future rather than speculative fiction with every passing month. It's an absolutely captivating read, and has a quality that I really value in comics - I have absolutely no idea where it's going, or how it might play out. It's one hell of a ride though, and a book overflowing with ideas and creativity. 9/10

EAST OF WEST #26
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Of all the long running Image titles that I pick up each and every month, it is East Of West that remains the book to excite me the most when it surfaces in my pull-list time and time again. In recent months it's been clear that Hickman has been taking time to elaborate upon and expand the world he has envisioned, building on every character's importance to the wider and greater plot whilst slowly ramping up the tension through this quieter period of scheming and relative calm to where we know it'll just take one tiny spark to set the whole thing off in explosive fashion. This issue just focuses on two places: Death continuing the search for his son and the various current members of The Chosen meeting for one final time before literal hell is seemingly unleashed. Thanks to all of the great work that has preceded this instalment we know just who has been backstabbing who, the machinations and duplicities in play, and it adds delicious, knowing excitement to every poker-faced lie and under-the-breath insult. When moments of genuine happiness appear - here with an unexpected reunion - they are a great contrast to the sombre tone and grim-jawed nature of the general proceedings and remind us that love and compassion can occasionally be witnessed in this cruel, desolate world of the apocalypse. East Of West remains ever-essential reading. 9/10

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