6 Nov 2016

Mini Reviews 06/11/2016

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.

AVENGERS #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Mike Del Mundo
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: It was the combination of Mark Waid and Mike Del Mundo that pulled me back towards Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for their umpteenth relaunch. Del Mundo’s distinctive style is quite an exciting choice for arguably Marvel’s premier title right now, and Waid’s consummate familiarity with the genre always lends an air of reassurance to the proceedings. Throwing Kang into the mix seems like the icing on the cake as the time-traversing madness that has followed that character across the years has resulted in some of the most thrilling and memorable Avengers storylines. I really wanted this to fill the void left after Jonathan Hickman finished his stint with this superteam but sadly it all seems kind of pedestrian. Del Mundo delivers the goods but Waid’s script doesn’t indicate anything outside the familiar, as yet. It could all change with the next issue but there’s great indication of that and it’s not a cheap gamble these days. Visually stimulating but in need of something more than just that at this stage. 6/10

UNWORTHY THOR #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Olivier Coipel & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: When you have great artists working in the comic book industry it's easy to say you want more from them, but with an elite artist such as Olivier Coipel it seems that you really must grit your teeth in excitement and employ a saint's patience in waiting for Marvel to release his next collaboration. This is only his second appearance on interior art duties in 2016 after the rather sedate Civil War II #0 back in May; we're nearly in 2017. But, by the roots of Yggdrasil, was it worth the wait as he reintroduces us to the fallen Odinson whose hammer-less hangover continues! Aaron drops back into the Asgardian prince's story with confident ease, allowing the rending of troll-flesh to take place alongside brooding nods to recent events (Original Sin and Secret Wars). After the chaos of battle it's the interaction with a (not so) mysterious stranger and that continued self-loathing that allows Coipel to demonstrate his range. Many blockbuster, grade-A artists can deliver breathtaking action, but can struggle to add subtle character expression to their repertoire. Coipel simply manipulates an eyebrow here, a grimaced lip there, and a character's emotional state is laid bare upon the page. It works as a great compliment for a story looking at a fallen hero, perhaps blinkered by that which struck him down, allowing continued arrogance to block his path to true self-enlightenment. A thunderously good start to Unworthy Thor! 9/10

Matt C: Any question over whether the world needs two concurrent Thor books evaporates within the first page of this issue. Coipel brings the goods - as you’d expect – with art that’s perhaps less ‘polished’ than some of his more lauded work, but that seems to be an entirely intentional move, as we’re dealing with an Odinson who’s spending a fair bit of time down in the dirt. It’s still chock full of eye-popping imagery, particularly when bone-cruching action is the order of the day, and Aaron injects the rough and ready superheroic Norse god poetry that he’s perfected by now to ensure the whole enterprise feels as epic, as grungy and as authentic as it can be. There’s an inevitability about where this is all headed – we know how the status quo eventually becomes re-established, one way of another – but if the journey is as captivating as this then it will be unquestionably worth the ride. 9/10

SHERIFF OF BABYLON #12
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
DC/Vertigo  $3.99

James R: Over the weekend I have mulled over if there's ever been a fortnight like this, where a writer has delivered two incredible finales one after the other. If anyone can let me know then please do, but for now I'm saying that this is unprecedented. After concluding The Vision last week, Tom King does it again with Sheriff Of Babylon. It's a different kind of coda to The Vision, but it is as equally memorable. This isn't a conclusion in the way that is the trademark of most detective fiction; there's no neat scenes of justice done and wrongs righted, and that's utterly apposite for this book. What we get is the revelation of how complex and difficult post-invasion Iraq was - a place beyond everyday ethics and morality, where lines between right and wrong are not so much blurred as non-existent. The final pages, acting as an echo of the first issue's opening, are unbelievably powerful, and proof positive that comics as a medium can tell stories that are simply impossible in other forms of art. Both Tom King and Mitch Gerads have been sensational on this series - I sincerely hope 2017 brings us a new Vertigo collaboration from these two talents. In an increasingly dark geopolitical year, Sheriff Of Babylon has been an essential read, both as a chronicle of post-war Iraq, and as a mirror to today. 10/10

STRANGE FRUIT #4
Writer: J.G. Jones & Mark Waid
Art: J.G. Jones
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: It's certainly taken a long while - the first issue debuted in June 2015 - but Strange Fruit finally gets its closure. Jones and Waid have worked to deliver a story looking at human tragedy on several levels and to their credit I've kept up with the delays and been intent on seeing the read through to the end. It's been a book looking at divides, be they racial, gender, wealth, political and even planetary when it comes to the visitor from other worlds. In this respect perhaps there are one or two many issues being addressed in such a short space of time to allow all of the ideas to feel fully realised. The impending flood has always been lurking in the background to push the narrative on and allow the tensions to rise along with the waters and when it all spills over into bloodshed and reluctant cooperation you can see what sort of rounded story the writers are attempting to tell. It's just unfortunate that there's too little time to fully develop any of the cast, especially the alien, Johnson, whose motivations remain clouded in mystery to the very end. In some ways I wonder what this would have been like as a pure period piece without the sci-fi slant that ultimately offered little more than unexplored intrigue and added to an already crowded narrative. After four issues across 18 months, Strange Fruit ends up being an interesting, if unessential read. 6/10

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #15
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour
Image $3.50

James R: I think it is a mark of a book's quality when it goes on a brief hiatus and the wait for the return feels like an eternity. It's only been five months that Southern Bastards has been absent from the new release schedules, but it's felt so much longer, and this issue wastes no time in reminding us why it is up there with the very best. The plot picks up in the aftermath of the Rebels defeat to Wetumpka, and the once-impervious Coach Boss finds that he is fighting for his future in more ways than one. Roberta Tubb finally makes an appearance at Boss BBQ, but rather than immediate fireworks, Jason Aaron is content to let the plot simmer away. Aaron's partnership with Latour is a remarkable one - I have never been fortunate enough to set foot in the Deep South, but every issue of Southern Bastards makes me feel as if I have. Latour's art is beautifully observed, and Aaron's characters so vivid that the verisimilitude is cut through this title like the rings of a tree. It's a joy to see the South rise again - there's still no comic quite like Southern Bastards. 9/10

CHAMPIONS #2
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: It's team-building time for these young Champions as Waid relocates the team to the solitude of forested wilds so that they can figure out the path they want to take and understand just who they're walking it with. It certainly helps to solidify this as a teen-focused title as we get bickering, jokes, misunderstandings and movie-referencing throughout the whole camping trip. The change of pace is certainly appreciated showing that there is always time to stop, assess and decompress in this chaotic comic book universe. Waid is finding that perfect spot between Breakfast Club-style camaraderie and superhero team-up book thanks to some keen dialogue and a reasonable sense of individuality between the cast (though Miles Morales and Sam Alexander could use some work to separate their similar 'voices'). Of particular note is the team's debate on the young Cyclops, considering that they know where he could end up as an adult and whether that perceived 'fate' goes against the stance this teenage group is taking against pre-emptive justice. Ramos, Olazaba and Delgado continue their fine work in a slower paced chapter and their combined style is a perfect fit for this younger leaning title that still has something for everyone. 8/10

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