24 Jul 2016

Mini Reviews 24/07/2016

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.

BLACK HAMMER #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

Matt C: With the likes of Descender at Image and Old Man Logan and Moon Knight at Marvel, saying Jeff Lemire is on something of a roll is a bit of an understatement. His creator-owned work has always been exemplary, but he seems to be a better fit with the Marvel Universe than the DC Universe, based on the outstanding work out the House Of Ideas at the moment, so what would happen if he mixed his indie sensibilities up with some solid superhero tropes? You get a comic like Black Hammer, one that takes all those familiar staples and takes them into unfamiliar territory. So yes, this is another loose Justice League analogue, but the situation Lemire puts this superteam in – trapped in a farming town – is fascinating, but more than that, what makes this an absolutely essential read, is the exceptional humanity the character’s display, the three-dimensional dynamics that bring the implausible into the realms of realism. Ormston’s art helps ground the fantastical in a mundane environment without making either element undermine the other, bringing that aforementioned humanity to the surface. Black Hammer is easily one of the impressive debuts of the year. Miss this one at your peril. 9/10

James R: Jeff Lemire really, really knows how to write a first issue that grabs - just going off the top of my head, Sweet Tooth, Animal Man, Trillium and Descender all began with opening chapters that captivated me immediately, and now Black Hammer can be added to that list. This series looks as if it's going to be an absolute treat for both grizzled fanboys and the casual reader. Lemire establishes that a Justice League analogue have found themselves trapped in a pocket, or parallel dimension following a Crisis-style event, and have been living out their lives on a rural farm and small town for the last decade. Lemire masterfully introduces the heroes and their attitudes towards their adopted lives with consummate skill. Early on, it's clear to see the rural tones of Lemire's excellent Essex County and his recurring interest in the notions of family and being an outsider. I really loved Dean Ormston's work too, which struck the perfect balance between the mundane world and the extraordinary heroes. This also passed my tried-and-tested gold standard - on finishing the issue, I immediately went back and re-read it. A debut issue bristling with confidence and promise, and easily the outstanding book of the week. 9/10

SOMBRA #1
Writer: Justin Jordan
Art: Raul Trevino
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Setting a tale in the world of the violent Mexican drug cartels offers much in the way of thrilling, dangerous storytelling possibilities, and the central conceit of Sombra – that a DEA agent has gone ‘off reservation’ and is now dispensing his own brand of justice on the cartels - certainly fits the bill. The familial connection provides the extra hook here but things lean a little too heavily on exposition rather than action which makes it all a little less engaging than the premise suggests. Trevino’s art is wide-eyed and sleek but it hews too closely to formula to really stand out. 6/10

AQUAMAN #3
Writer: Dan Abnett
Art: Philippe Briones & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99

Stewart R: The opening two issues were rather explosive affairs covering Aquaman and Black Manta's ongoing feud and the swift fall of Spindrift Station. In the aftermath of this it becomes clear that Abnett is a) not done with that particular clash in the longer run, and b) is keen to get into the politics of the uneasy truce between those above and below the tideline. The cover pretty much sums proceedings up here as Arthur and Mera travel to Washington DC to try and mend the damage from the latest attack and in doing so realise the level of distrust Atlantis currently holds in the capital following previous attacks that have caused multiple human casualties. I personally like it when writers start to look at the wider implications of superhero actions and these fantasy world interactions, but could see that wider audiences may not find this to be such an intriguing prospect for a character that has failed to properly hit the mark in recent past attempts. To his credit, Abnett keeps the tension running with the destructive machinations of other parties and when it comes to Arthur Curry he's certainly setting him up to be the noble leader you can put your emotional belief behind. 8/10

STAR WARS #21
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Jorge Molina & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

James R: A long time ago (in this galaxy, however), back when Dark Horse still had the Star Wars licence, they used to publish a great anthology book called Star Wars Tales. Within those pages were some exceptional short takes on the Star Wars Universe, and the one that sticks in my mind was Garth Ennis' ‘Trooper’, which told the story of the selection and training of the Stormtrooper killed by Princess Leia at the start of A New Hope. I was immediately reminded of that tale this month, as Aaron gives us something similar - an issue that focuses on the Empire's elite troops as they hunt down a Rebel unit on an abandoned moon. What really struck me is how well Aaron gives us the other side of the story. Our narrator, Sergeant Kreel, tells us exactly why he sees the Empire as liberators rather than a tyrannical regime, and why the Rebels are terrorists, rather than freedom fighters. This is the first part of a new arc but it's so deftly written it could be read as a standalone story. The art from Molina and Milla does a fine job of giving the book a layer of suitable grime, with more emphasis on the 'wars' rather than the 'star', and they portray the action sequences with aplomb. Some of the other Star Wars books may not be faring so well, but for me, this is still Star Wars done right. 8/10

Matt C: I had begun to feel that this flagship series of Marvel’s Star Wars line was getting stuck in a rut, too reliant on the Luke/Han/Liea triumvirate, unable to break the mould and do something fresh and unexpected. Not that I don’t like seeing the classic characters in new stories, but because we know where they’re ultimately headed, there’s only so far you can take their arcs without stepping on the toes of established continuity. This issue seems like a possible way forward by shaking up things a little and expanding the remit a little wider. The Stormtrooper-centric story is just what the doctor ordered then, giving precedence to their perspective on the conflict with the Rebel Alliance, reminiscent of those effective Clone Wars episodes that put the clone troopers front and centre. There are plenty of ‘war movie’ tropes in evidence, which Aaron utilizes adeptly, and Molina’s slick combat imagery is nicely judged. More of this kind of thing should ensure the Force remains strong with this title. 8/10

SUPERMAN #3
Writers; Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Art: Jorge Jimenez & Alejandro Sanchez
DC $2.99

Stewart R: The antagonist of the piece gets properly introduced in this latest issue and I am pleased to see that the Eradicator proves to be more than a one dimensional droid-like punchbag. Yes, it's fair to say that we're revisiting tried and tested Kryptonian history here as we once again travel back to the planet's end and talk of its resurrection gets bandied around the place, but it makes for a passable narrative in the face of John's temperamental physical condition and Clark's distracted focus. Some might say that what passes isn't new or fresh, and in some way I think that's the point as Superman goes about dealing with a (potential) foe in his usual way based upon his past experiences while the true hook is just how young John will act and react in the midst of it all. I was surprised to see Jimenez on art here, thinking that duties were only being shared between Gleason and Mahnke during the early run, but my word does his style fit well! There are odd character moments that feel a little too close to manga in delivery, but outside of that the overall feel is close to Gleason's look on the previous issues with a healthy leaning towards Olivier Coipel's premium style too, which is a big positive. 8/10

BATMAN #3
Writer: Tom King
Artists: David Finch, Danny Miki & Jordie Bellaire
DC Comics $2.99

James R: Three issues in, and Tom King is really starting to make the Batcave his own. What's impressed me the most about these opening issues is the pace of King's narrative - if you can remember the trend for decompressed storytelling from the turn of the century, this book is the diametric opposite; it’s quick and sleek, and shows a great grasp of what has made the character so compelling for almost eight decades. We're given the back stories of Gotham and Gotham Girl and the role played by the Dark Knight in shaping them. The book also looks good too, with David Finch doing his best work in ages, and Jordie Bellaire's colours finding the right mix of urban grit and sinister night. I was reticent over DC's decision to ship certain books twice a month, but if King and company keep up this level of quality, then it's an absolute treat for us Bat-fans. 8/10

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