9 Oct 2016

Mini Reviews 09/10/2016

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.

CHAMPIONS #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: There were a multitude of reasons for me to not pick up this title this week: it's a $4.99 purchase, I've never had any interest in Miles Morales or Miss Marvel, I dislike the fact that young Cyclops is even in the Marvel Universe and Richard Rider will always be Nova for me. Then there were two reasons to pick up this title: Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos. The latter duo of reasons won out and truth be told this is a pretty decent debut all round. Having paid absolutely no attention to the groan worthy concept of Civil War II, I was pleased to see Waid only places occasional nods to the fallout of the event as these young heroes show their disillusionment with their elder peers in a comic book universe now tired with the destructive shenanigans of their would-be protectors. With the real world going through a period of some political turbulence and a consistent look at the widening of generational gaps (including within Marvel's own readership?) and abuse of power at multiple levels taking place, it's good to see Waid pull so many ideas and themes into a teen-centric title. There's fun to be had amongst the metaphors and serious plights, the characterisation is strong and Ramos is on fine form when some of his more recent work appeared a touch rushed if I'm honest. At a time when I'm reading fewer Marvel titles than I have in a decade, it's good to know that new books from the publisher can still strongly convince me to look at the second issue. 8/10

JESSICA JONES #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Michael Gaydos & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $3.99

James R: Last year, when I reviewed the Jessica Jones TV series, I commented that its arrival heralded the end of the complete mainstream acceptance of comics - what started life as a small, edgy experiment from Marvel was now a well-received TV show, advertised on huge billboards. When I saw that Bendis and Gaydos had reunited for a new run (another sign of times: the character is now so well-established that the book is eponymous, rather than sticking with the original title of Alias) I decided to take a look for old time's sake, and I was really pleased that I did. Inevitably, there's not the novelty or the freshness that Alias came with, but it's evident that Bendis and Gaydos haven't forgotten what made it such a great book in the first place. We find Jessica Jones more down on her luck than ever before, and thrown headlong into a classic case - a husband claiming that he's someone notable trapped on Earth 'from another universe' - whilst staying one step ahead of her now-estranged partner, Luke Cage. Over the last few years, Bendis' stock dropped to virtually nil with me - his tortuous, dull run on  Avengers, his poor stewardship of the X-Men, and the loss of momentum on the once-great Powers meant that I actively avoid his work now. Jessica Jones has made me rethink my position though; it's a fine opening chapter that shows all the quality that made Alias a must-read. Gaydos' art is great too, as always making the remarkable Marvel Universe seem everyday and real. I will withhold full judgement until I've read a few more issues, but this has certainly been the pleasant surprise of the year. 8/10

Matt C: When Marvel initiated their MAX imprint with Alias #1 back in 2001 it was revelatory debut. A ‘mature audiences’ comic that tackled adult themes within the Marvel Universe (albeit on its fringes) it managed to bring a raw realism to the superhero genre, creating one of the few new characters that’s had a genuine impact and longevity since the halcyon days of the ‘60s and ‘70s in Jessica Jones. When writer Brian Michael Bendis moved into the centre of Marvel’s mainstream with his run on Avengers he dragged Jessica with him, and while she was still an engaging individual she didn’t really thrive in the more colourful spotlight in the same way that she had out on the periphery of things. With the success of the Netflix show, Jones has now turned the tables, dragging Bendis back with her to where she belongs, and while it could have been a case of attempting to capture old glories, it doesn’t feel anything like that at all, the naturalism returning with a feeling that this is where both writer and character belong, and it’s as though they’ve never been away. Gaydos gets right back into the swing of things too, with Hollingsworth bringing a moody palette to the proceedings, and if you were sceptical that the magic of the original Alias run could be recaptured then this first chapter seems to suggest that it can, and with consummate ease. 8/10

MOONSHINE #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso
Image $2.99

Matt C: This series is set in a historical period that continues to hold  fascination for me so there was no way I was going to let it pass me by and, unsurprisingly considering the talent involved, it delivers. Azzarello and Risso nail the prohibition era vibe with an effortlessly engaging confidence, weaving in real life figures like Joe Masseria into a fictional story of gangsters and bootlegging hillbillies, with a hint of the supernatural for good measure. The dialogue sings, the art has a rough elegance to it, and at $2.99 it’s an absolute no-brainer purchase. 8/10

GREEN VALLEY #1
Writer: Max Landis
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cliff Rathburn & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Image $2.99

Matt C: After Superman: American Alien I’m willing to give any comic Max Landis turns his hand to a shot and while I’m not fully convinced by this debut issue I’m pretty confident that the writer has enough tricks up his sleeve to ensure it will remain a worthwhile purchase going forward. This tale of friendship and violence in an era of kings and knights feels a tad too familiar at times, with a rather obvious revenge angle looming into view, but it’s well written and the contemporary patter helps establish the tone rather than registering as an anachronism. The art is a major selling point too, with a bold vibrancy that puts it in the realm of colourful fantasy over the grim and grit of the more fashionable Game Of Thrones look. In the back pages Landis stresses that we will have no idea where this story is headed and I’m hopeful that he's lulled us into a sort of false sense of security with this slightly formulaic opener so he can pull the rug from under us when we get further along. Fingers crossed. 7/10

SHIPWRECK #1
Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Phil Hester & Mark Englert
Aftershock Comics $3.99

James R: When I saw this listed in Previews, I was a little underwhelmed - the pitch gave very little away, and as much as I love Warren Ellis, I feared that this series would see him going through the motions rather than breaking new ground. Certainly there's some classic Ellis tropes here (a bleeding edge science experiment gone awry, sharp conversations in a diner - tick and tick) but as always with his work there's something interesting that makes it a compelling read. The book's protagonist, Dr. Jonathan Shipwright, pursues a man who sabotaged his clandestine mission, but both men have been transformed in some way by the shipwreck - Shipwright can phase through solid objects, whilst his quarry Isham has the ability to warp and corrupt the minds of others. As the issue unfolds, it's not entirely clear how real any of this is: is Shipwright dead, and now in purgatory? Or is he trapped on a parallel Earth? Ellis has a lot of fun twisting the narrative, and I was utterly hooked. It's great to see Phil Hester's work here too - his style is incredibly distinctive, and as usual with Ellis scripts, if the artist is talented they lift things up several notches. As always with the scribe of Southend, this recommendation comes with a warning - Warren Ellis books tend to be beset by delays, cancellations, or sometimes vanishing into the ether. I hope Shipwreck goes the distance, as this first chapter certainly promises a fantastic voyage. 8/10

GIRRION: THE CHRYSALIS & THE STONE #1
Writer: Tom Lintern
Art: Tom Lintern
Scout Comics $3.99

Stewart R: An interesting start for a Kickstarted, creator-owned project released through a smaller publisher. Lintern does a good job setting a sense of scale for Girrion within just a few pages, the huge flying vessel that acts as a city for the Gunflin people floating through the broiling, brooding skies of the land of Gania. Much of this opening chapter is about setting mood as we catch glimpses of the city from different angles and perspectives and learn through subtle plotting a little more about the mysterious place Jarra and his kind call home. Once the unassuming engineer is spying upon a meeting of the city's leadership and the Princess of the Gunflins we do slip into familiar territory and it's fair to say that this opening effort certainly reminded me of the works of Jim Henson and several anime series. Lintern's art style does however give Girrion a unique visual flair, though there are one or two occasions where I had a bit of a job trying to figure out what was being depicted. Despite the need to decipher an artistic conundrum here and there, it's a promising world-building chapter. 7/10

BLACK #1
Writer: Kwanza Osajyefo
Art: Jamal Igle
Black Mask $3.99

Matt C: A series like this seems perfectly timed as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to highlight injustices in the States, but although Black does touch on the political side of things, unfortunately t's a bit too superficial to make an impact. Basically what we get is yet another riff on the X-Men, this time with black superpowerd individuals being fashioned into a team to keep them out of reach of various nefarious forces. It’s not terrible but it’s too derivative and lacks the spark of uniqueness, and overall it feels like a wasted opportunity as something far more powerful could have been generated from this concept. 5/10

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