3 Jul 2016

Mini Reviews 03/07/2016

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.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #2
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Jesus Saiz
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: After the utterly ludicrous response that erupted online in some quarters following the shock cliffhanger of last month’s debut issue, this sophompore instalment reveals that – surprise, surprise – there’s actually more to this tale than Cap being ‘a Nazi’. The central theme here is the radicalization of the young and vulnerable, and how incendiary ideas can be perceived as normal and logical with the right delivery to a susceptible audience. That the vulnerable, susceptible mind here is a sentient Cosmic Cube is almost beside the point since Spencer smartly and believably weaves these pertinent ideas into a plot that features a heavy mix of sci-fi and superheroics. Saiz’ artwork is expressive and polished, easily up to the task of giving the storyline an extra punch, and while we can now see more clearly how this is but a riff on tried-and-tested trope (making those death threats even more despicably embarrassing), Spencer is doing a fine job of making it both thoughtful and compelling. 8/10

JUPITER'S LEGACY 2 #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Frank Quitely & Sunny Gho
Image $3.99

James R: I make no secret of my belief that Mark Millar has peaked as a writer - the P.T. Barnum of mainstream comics now talks a far better game than he plays. Take the plot for Jupiter's Legacy: for those of us who are old enough to remember, this is pretty much a reworking of his last collaboration with Frank Quietly on The Authority, but despite this, Legacy has flashes of the brilliance that brought the writer to international acclaim, with the right mix of character, emotion and breakneck-speed plotting. But above all else, there's one reason and one reason alone that this book is worth picking up: Frank Quitely. Quitely is a true master of the medium, with work that's exquisitely detailed, beautifully constructed and a feast for the eyes. For example, he turns two establishing panels of a prison (one exterior and one interior) into pages that feel incredibly real, whilst infusing them with a sense of the spectacular. Quitely elevates any title he's on to another level (my thoughts immediately flash back to how pedestrian Grant Morrison's Batman And Robin issues were when fill-in artists took his place) and he certainly makes this the one Millarworld title that remains an essential purchase. 8/10

EAST OF WEST #27
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta & Frank Martin
Image $3.99

Stewart R: And from last issue’s brooding discussion-fest, we watch as things writhe, fester and grow into something hideous and dangerous as Ezra calls upon his Chosen at this meeting to fall in line behind The Word and things of course do not go according to plan. The brilliance here is the matching of the meeting's changing shape and form with that of Ezra's physical condition as he tries to assert a power and hold over those who clearly have their own motivations and personal codes to follow. As things really go awry the chaos is just bewildering as everyone fights for their lives against a horde of pilgrims with one simple task upon their fevered minds. This being Hickman playing with such a large and unpredictable cast you really cannot tell who will make it out in one piece. That's when you also consider that the political struggles amongst this duplicitous group even continue when bullets are flying and keen edged weapons are tearing flesh asunder. Dragotta takes the climactic sequence and rather than exploding it outwards in ever-growing panels as the end draws near, employs the reverse technique on the second-to-last page, shrinking them subtly and steadily zooming out from the focus which adds to the tense scene of horror that we witness and allows your mind to play with that which you don't come the final page. Masterful comic book writing. 10/10

James R: East Of West is now getting to that level of complexity where I often have go back to previous issues to refresh my memory as to just who is in league with who and why (sorry, I'm getting old, and I've had a hectic year!) but once I have been reminded, it's still an absolute joy to see Hickman and Dragotta work in such perfect harmony. This issue feels like the first climax to plot threads that have been precisely woven since 2013, and whereas the plot payoff from Hickman works terrifically, the issue really comes alive thanks to Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin - having a giant demonic monster in deadly combat with a Native American spirit totem sounds ridiculous, and in the hands of lesser artist would look equally so, but the artists make the events leap off the page. At this point I have no idea how long this book has left, but knowing Hickman's prior record with epic runs I sense there could be a fair few jaw-dropping issues and twists to come. Still a unique book, and still absolute quality from first page to last. 8/10

4 KIDS WALK INTO A BANK #2
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Art: Tyler Boss & Clare Dezutti
Black Mask $3.99

Matt C: You were either ahead of the curve or you're part of the majority who’ve heard rumblings about this series. What you’ve heard has probably been incredibly positive, and the reason for that is because this is the real deal. Black Mask have been steadily making a name for themselves over the past year and this could well be the book that puts them firmly on the map. The title of the series kind of gives the game away as far in the plot goes but we’re not in a position where anyone’s walked into a bank just yet. Fortunately, getting a rather large hint of what’s to come doesn’t detract from what’s the major appeal of 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is, and that’s the sharp, charming and truthful characterization Rosenberg imbues his leading quartet with, and the way Boss uses inventive panel layouts and seemingly commonplace compositions to connect the reader to the cast. It’s a coming-of-age/rites-of-passage tale with bite, and it shows that not only do the creative team have a bright future ahead of them but also that Black Mask are a publisher that should be ignored at your peril. 8/10

DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #5
Writers: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello
Art: Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson
DC $5.99

James R: I was all ready to make this my book of the week. Annoying mini-book inserts aside, I have enjoyed DKIII far, far more than I was anticipating, and this issue was certainly paying off my investment in spades. The return of Superman! Callbacks to the original Dark Knight Returns! A genius Batman plan! As I drank this issue in, I was thinking about how I would sing its praises here... but then I got to the final page. I have no desire to spoil anything for anybody, and the reveal was something that made logical sense given the plot, but it features one of the worst character designs I think I've seen in my years of reading comics... and I've seen some shocking stuff! I hate to even entertain using the term 'LOL' but yep, I guffawed out loud when I saw that last page. Others may love it, and that's absolutely fine, but for me, the climax to an epic issue shouldn't be an image that's still making me laugh four days later. Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives here, but DKIII comes crashing to the ground when it should soar. 7/10

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