12 Jun 2016

Mini Reviews 12/06/2016

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: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt & Bill Crantree
Oni Press $9.99

Matt C: The supernatural Western series that first appeared on Free Comic Book Day at the turn of the decade reaches its conclusion with this triple-sized issue, and the results are, for want of a better word, satisfying. There’s a certain amount of predictability in the way the various plot threads get tied up, but that’s not necessarily a criticism as things were always bound to be headed in a certain direction. Perhaps more problematic is the way the focus has shifted away from certain characters, particularly Becky Montcrief, ostensibly the lead of the story, who has drifted into the background slightly as more colourful personalities have taken centre stage. Having said that there’s still plenty to enjoy here, not least watching Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree pull out all the stops to render a sumptuous visual mix of cowboys battling monsters and other weirdness. There’s something mythic at the heart of this tale that is very appealing, and Bunn has done some great work in making The Sixth Gun have a genuinely epic sweep to it. Not quite a finale to knock your socks off, but certainly not a disappointing end to a fine series overall. 7/10

Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Matthew Clark, Sean Parsons, Liam Sharp, Jerry Colwell & Laura Martin
DC $2.99

Matt C: Unsurprisingly it looks like many of the plotlines in these Rebirth titles will hinge on the realisation that someone has been messing about with the timeline of the DC Universe. Under the guidance of Greg Rucka, this will undoubtedly be one of the strongest entries as Diana becomes increasingly aware that something is off, as different variations of her origin seem to merge and overlap, making little sense as to what is and isn’t real. It’s nicely done, with Rucka bringing the disparate elements into a cohesive, digestible whole with the assistance of my namesake, Matthew Clark, and a short burst of illustrative excellence from Liam Sharp, which bodes well for the series to come. I don’t often connect with Wonder Woman as I find certain writers don’t always make the mythology palatable to more than just the most hardcore fans. I have far more faith in Rucka though so I’m willing to see where this goes. 7/10

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
DC/Vertigo $3.99

James R: I have a sneaking suspicion that my esteemed colleague Matt C will be singing the praises of Tom King's other fine comic this week - Marvel's The Vision - so I feel it's down to me to champion Sheriff Of Babylon (again!). Following the incredibly tense, and subsequently tragic events of last issue, this focuses on two separate lines of investigation. In one, we see Nassir subjected to an interrogation from shadowy US agents, employing techniques that now seem synonymous with America's War on Terror, and both King and Gerads pull no punches in showing us the barbarity of torture. In the other, Sofia uses her intelligence and empathy to gain more information on the figure who has become the dark, mysterious antagonist of this book - Abu Rahim. As the issue progresses, both lines of inquiry are juxtaposed, and even though they both have the same desired outcome, King leaves us in no doubt as to which is most effective. One of the hallmarks of great fiction in any media is that it makes you care about the characters and Sheriff Of Babylon does that magnificently. Engrossing from the first page to the last, Sheriff Of Babylon continues to be a comic that demands your attention. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $2.99

Matt C: Two arcs in and now I’m out. While many of my PCG colleagues have sung this books praises since it debuted, I’ve always found it difficult to properly engage with it in a meaningful way. I have persevered far longer than I normally would have but to no avail unfortunately. It feels like Ellis on autopilot, tackling themes and concepts he’s utilized in past projects, but not injecting (sorry!) any fresh life into them, coasting on past glories rather than creating new ones. Perhaps if you’re new to his work this would feel smart and innovative, and while it’s hardly sloppy work (the art’s very strong), after 10 issues I’m throwing in the towel, because as much as I generally enjoy Ellis’ writing, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s past his prime. 5/10

Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Phil Noto
Marvel $3.99

James R: And this all started off so well. I had a lot of hope for this book because 1. Charles Soule is a good writer, 2. Phil Noto is a fine artist, and 3. I ruddy love Star Wars and I'm really keen for further adventures of Poe Dameron's Black Squadron. After a decent first issue, I thought this would be a continuation of Marvel's strong Star Wars line, but having read this conclusion to the first arc I'm just really disappointed. The plot itself fails that most vital of tests - it just doesn't feel like Star Wars. This may sound ridiculous in a fictional universe that has space slugs living in asteroids, but the culmination of this arc - featuring a Godzillaesque smackdown between two aliens - just felt wrong to me. The book also runs afoul of the future-proofed cast - none of these characters can be killed off because of their involvement in the movies. This isn't always a problem, but it certainly undercut any tension here. It does look absolutely great, and Noto really captures the likenesses of the cast well, but I don't think that's enough to justify another $3.99 title. Like Wedge pulling out of the attack on the original Death Star, I am going to have to fly away from this title. 5/10

Writer: Tom King
Art: Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Surprising no one, this was the highlight of my reading week (alongside another of Tom King’s current series, Sheriff Of Babylon) because the intelligence at its core is utterly refreshing, and the emotion he manages to bring out of his characters is suitably affecting. King once again takes a different than expected narrative turn (although it becomes clear why soon enough) while the narration, which describes the events as occurring in the recent past, is cleverly cryptic, revealing much but at the same time revealing little. Walta’s art is bulky but undercut with a lightness of expression and Bellaire is adept as ever at grounding the fantastical where required. Plenty of people are finally cottoning on to the fact that this is one of the best books on the shelves at the moment. Make sure you’re one of them. 8/10

Writer: Shawn Aldridge
Art: Scott Godlewski & Patricia Mulvihill
Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: The captivating cover from Tyler Crook certainly sets the scene for this issue as Iris' family have come under attack from all sides with Ayah's vengeance getting far too close to home. Aldridge continues to do fine character work with Iris, a man literally chased by the demons of his past action and inaction, but who will stand firm in the face of unrelenting malice to protect those he loves. The true sell is that Iris comes across as a man willing to pay the ultimate price to see this evil vanquished, but the line between acceptance and actual relief at his fate is a blurred line indeed considering his down-on-his-luck, post-service situation and the ghosts that continue to plague him. Godlweski and Mulvihill's hands in depicting the story is yet another solid performance that brings brooding claustrophobia to the page and will likely make you take sideways glances at any crows, rooks or ravens crossing your path in the future. The Dark & Bloody remains an example of the thriller-horror story done right! 9/10

Writer: Kaare Kyle Andrews
Art: Kaare Kyle Andrews
Image $3.99

Stewart R: After a blistering opener Andrews doesn't let up with his stylised attack on the world's wealthiest and most selfish as he brings things into an incredibly topical arena as one current Presidential candidate gets the full blown satirical treatment. The Freelancer accepts an invitation to a deplorable modern orgy that provides all of the debaucherous and vice-fuelled opulence you'd expect before things drop into the realms of the despicable and, as expected, the blood and justice begin to flow freely. It's not great to draw comparisons, but I can't help but think about Bruce Wayne going to one of his high society parties and wanting to kill each and every uncaring, bloodsucker present, putting down the faux philanthropists and exposing the putrid belly of the upper classes who strip mine his city and its people. That's the darkened arena into which Renato Jones is wading here, tearing the whole bloated carnival tent down from within. Andrews is clearly going for an electric, over-the-top attack, both from a script and visual point of view, and since that was established early on, the meshing of comic book storytelling and loose real world mirroring sit happily together provided you can embrace the vibrant, exploitation vibe that runs through every page. To his credit Andrews manages to keep the straighter edged commentary on Westernised society and the distribution of power humming softly in the background so that after the explosions have faded and the blood pooled on the floor the message still rings in the ears. 9/10

Writer: Mark Miller
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Ive Svorcina
Marvel Icon $3.99

Stewart R: Yes. Yup, that's right. I'm still buying Empress. I've a feeling that I may be one of the select few amongst the PCG still throwing money at this, but I can't quite bring myself to stop. It must be said that this is one very formulaic, by-the-numbers operatic space-chase which you could easily see Millar hocking to the Hollywood studios as I type out these very mixed words, but it's the work of Immonen, Grawbadger and Svorcina that raises Empress up and makes it so readable and so engaging. As the pursuit seemingly continues - the efforts of King Morax appear to have been left to a galaxy-wide APB and killing the failures around him for the moment - we get several action pieces worthy of (an inspired by?) a Star Trek blockbuster as the ragtag fugitive family bump from dangerous pillar to post in the efforts to find eventual sanctity. It's increasingly hard these days to establish whether Millar is a writer looking to honour the pure genre forms which inspired him so, or if he's attempting to emulate and possibly subvert those genres, yet failing to hit the requisite twists and plot turns to fully deliver on that intention. The fact that Empress remains so wrapped in clich├ęs warm embrace has me thinking that Millar could pull his grand surprise at the very last second and salvage his end of the deal, but until then the superb work continuously presented by the art team remains enough to see Empress an ongoing fixture on my pull list. 6/10

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