20 Nov 2016

Mini Reviews 20/11/2016

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.

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Mike Deodato & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I'll admit that in these days of the falling pound and increasing cover prices I'm actually a little reticent to pick up new Marvel books. The canon shifts on a crazily frequent basis along with the creative talent and it seems to make every purchase more of a gamble. And so gamble I have this week with Thanos #1, a new look at the Mad Titan from Lemire and Deodato. Lemire picks things up with a direct look at the aftermath of Hickman's 'Infinity' storyline and the void of power left by Thanos' quest and defeat. It's actually a fine way to catch up with things and reassert the power that lies within the hands of this key Marvel villain. Lemire, through a sequence of action from Deodato capped by a few sparing panels of dialogue, absolutely nails Thanos in one hit, capturing the pointed and dominant nature of his demeanour in quick fashion. The somewhat surprising kicker here is that this is not a story necessarily seen from Thanos' perspective. The early parts involving Thanos are narrated from a third person view and it gradually leans towards others forming the focus of the story's drive with the titular Titan being the 'prize'. Lemire ropes Starfox and '80s creation Tryco Slatterus into proceedings along with newer participant, Thane, to act as the rag-tag bunch who will make the destruction of Thanos their priority. This melding of old and new works alongside Deodato's application of the Ben Day Dot technique within his usual fine line/dark ink style to offer a visual that strikes with modern and retro appeal. The cliffhanger twist is interesting, rather than exciting, but there's enough quality here to convince me to gamble again next month with Thanos #2. 8/10

Matt C: The ‘Mad God of Titan’ returns with his very own ongoing, and as villainous debuts go, this is pretty damn convincing. I skipped Civil War II so I’m not entirely sure how Thanos was involved in that, but Jonathan Hickman’s utilization of the character through his epic Avengers run still lingers in the memory, and Lemire leans into that here by signalling his return with a violent confrontation with Corvus Glaive. Elsewhere he brings in a lively Starfox and a tempered Champion into the larger arc, suggesting this series will be true to its cosmic roots. As expected, Deodato brings his significant talent to bear, rustling up a succession of broody, hulking panels that are lent a menacing power via Martin’s colouring. The cliffhanger feels a tad hackneyed but there’s so much good stuff already on the table that even a familiar twist looks like it has the potential to add further grandeur to the character who is fast becoming Marvel’s premier bad guy. 8/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: David Rubin
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: Matt Kindt is such a talent that a new series from him will always be an automatic buy for me. In Ether, we see him on fine form, posing an intriguing question: can everything be explained by science? Is magic just phenomena we have yet to quantify? The plot follows Boone Dias, a scientist who has discovered a parallel dimension called Ether, which resembles a fairytale world full of strange beasts and creatures that defy logic. Dias is lauded by the inhabitants of Ether for his application of logic and reason to solve their intractable mysteries, and in this issue he is presented with a murder to solve. Kindt is clearly having a lot of fun with this one - there's a whimsy alongside the usual intelligence and invention of his scripts. David Rubin does a superb job illustrating, giving us two distinct styles and moods between the fantastical Ether and the grit of our Earth. Kindt always knows how to draw a reader in, and he does it again here with a great mix of mystery, ideas and character. A magical debut, Ether rounds off a fine 2016 for Kindt. 8/10

Writer: Francis Manapul
Art: Clay Mann & Seth Man
DC $2.99

Matt C: There's something a bit magical about this series. It’s in continuity but – at this stage at least – it looks like Manapul is being given an opportunity to tell his tales without fear of being sucked into an crossovers/events, and that is a very good thing. It means there’s enough space for the dynamic between these three icons to breathe, and that allows an opportunity to dig deeper into the characters behind the masks, drawing on their powerful origin stories to shed new light on what compels them to do what they do. Manapul steps away from artistic duties (for this issue, at least) but Mann takes the baton in relatively seamless fashion, landing most of the emotional beats when needed. This series holds weight, it doesn’t read like a frivolous stopgap between events, and all being well, it will continue to thrive without tampering from up the editorial ladder. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.99

James R: Ed Brubaker portrays the broken with an unflinching gaze. Looking back over his career, some of his finest moments have been character studies of people struggling under the weight of a traumatic past (the Lawless brothers in Criminal, pretty much the entire cast of The Fade Out) and we can now add Dylan Cross to that list. In this chapter of Kill Or Be Killed we see Dylan begin to struggle with his new double life following the euphoria of his first mission of vengeance. As with all of Brubaker and Phillips' work, the sense of doom hangs heavy over the pages, but you find that you just can't look away. Philips and Breitweiser's art is a thing of dark beauty, which adds to the sense of magnetism the book has. The issue climaxes on a great reveal which marks the end of the first arc. It sets up the next arc perfectly, and if you're not picking this book up, you owe it to yourself to catch up before January - it's a wonderfully apposite series for our currently dark times. 8/10

Matt C: The genius of the series at this point is that we genuinely don’t know if Dylan Cross has really been commanded by a demon to violently deal with those who have sinned or whether he’s completely lost his marbles and is listening to the voices in his head. The fact that the apparent supernatural elements have disappeared into the background over the last couple of issues seems to suggest the latter is the case, but trying to second guess Brubaker would be fool’s errand, so it’s best to sit back and go with the compulsively lurid flow, with its perceptive insights into the human condition and some blistering artwork from Phillips and Breitweiser. The winning streak this creative trio are on continues apace, and their collaborative efforts are arguably the pinnacle of the creator-owned boom. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia
Image $3.99

Stewart R: It's strange how things can change from one issue of a comic to the next. What started with a promising look from Millar at life and death in the debut has stumbled into a clumsy, clich├ęd fantasy driven second effort that actually left me feeling frustrated at the end. Having found her way into this afterlife and been reunited with her father, Bonnie's first thought is to find her husband. That's not too far of a step to be fair, but considering the war that has been going on between the forces of light and dark and Bonnie being heralded as the champion, all tension and threat is vacuumed straight out by a weird, casual and rather aimless joviality that pervades throughout. Having been in this world for maybe half a day Bonnie instantly declares that she needs 'a month' to find her husband. A month? So this important battle can wait that long AND she knows that this arbitrary period will allow her to search how far in this land she knows nothing about? If you're the declared and prophesied champion, wouldn't it be refreshing change to take on the villain and then spend as long as you like looking for hubby? Oh, that's right, we can't go in this direction because the inevitable 'twist' for this story is already being telegraphed. I do tend to dig at Millar's occasional throwaway stance when it comes to the finer points of his grand and great ideas, but when he hits the heights - Kick-Ass, Superior, Jupiter's Legacy - it's disappointing when he plumbs the lower depths with something close to lack of care. It feels that many of these recent projects with top artistic talent just allows the laziness to seep in as the art can be expected to help cover the narrative 'cracks', but even a reasonably on form Capullo doesn't have enough illustrative plaster for this job. 4/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Andrea Sorrentino & Marcelo Maiolo
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A reassuringly intense end to the ‘Last Ronin’ arc that sees Lemire tap into the damaged persona of Logan once again, continuing to portray him as a man whose future-past drives him forward as much as it holds him back. There’s doomed romance in here amongst the blood-letting and claw-popping but once again the real star of the show is Sorrentino who, over the last year, has positioned himself as one of the shining lights in mainstream comic book artistry, and he shows exactly why this is the case here with a simply phenomenal double-page spread that is the very definition of eye-popping. This series has taken a character I felt had reached a stage of tedious repetition and a tale that was all high concept and no trousers and turned it all around into an utterly compelling look at a man out of step with the world but desperately trying to make sense of it all. 9/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: Black Hammer has been a terrific series thus far but this month it reaches even greater heights with one of the finest issues of the year. The spotlight falls on the magnificently named Randall Weird, the pulp-esque astronaut of the stranded team, who is spaced out in every sense of the word. Lemire tells us just why the colonel is forever disorientated, following his trip into the para-zone. It reminded me of Moore and Gibbons' legendary Dr. Manhattan chapter of Watchmen, wherein we see how Jon Osterman saw the world as rigidly deterministic and unfolding in a way that could not be changed or altered. Colonel Weird shares this perspective, shuttling back and forward through his own timeline, unable to stop the tragedies of his life, and now trapped as an observer. Dean Ormston's work rises to the challenge of portraying this most psychedelic of issues with aplomb, delivering some of the most remarkable images so far in this series. When I reached the final page, I immediately re-read it - and enjoyed it even more. That's always been my gold standard for comics, and Black Hammer passes with flying colours. A special issue in an essential series. 9/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Michael Gaydos & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The debut issue wasn’t a fluke as this sophomore effort confirms beyond any doubt that we’re back where we want to be: this is Alias-level quality. It’s the same mature approach to the Marvel Universe that made its predecessor so powerful, the same understanding of character that helped flesh out Jessica Jones into a relatable human being rather than an untouchable, god-like, superpowered individual. The personal drama (fuelled by Luke Cage’s appearance) sits nicely alongside the blending of noir tropes with the superhero genre, and it’s done with enough intelligence and style to ensure it still feels fresh 15 years later. 8/10

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