2 Jan 2017

Mini Reviews 01/01/2017

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 - in this case, following the festive holiday break the past TWO weeks! - encompassing the good, the bad, and those that lie somewhere in between.

Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Art: Nico Leon & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This is an iteration of Shulkie we’ve not seen for a while, leaning more into her ‘savage’ origins rather than the smart, sassy portrayal that has come to define the character. It feels necessary as, while recent series have been vastly entertaining, they’ve never stuck around for too long. That’s not to say this series will have longevity but it’s adding an element that, at least for the moment, builds on what’s come before but takes it down a new path. Last time I saw She-Hulk she was presumed dead, but skipping Civil War II means I missed out on her being in a coma when Bruce Banner was killed by Hawkeye (huh?) so there’s a bit of catch-up required, but fortunately not too much. Basically this is Jennifer Walters dealing with the trauma she experienced while also reeling from the death of her cousin, the trouble being she can’t progress past the ‘anger’ stage of grief without losing control and unleashing the monster within. Tamaki captures the vulnerable side of Jennifer well while Leon brings an emotional sophistication to deceptively simple images that’s reminiscent of Fiona Staples’ fine work.  It’s an unexpected but hugely promising debut, staying true to the character while at the same time doing something different. 8/10

Stewart R: I was really prepared to leave this relaunch alone. I loved Charles Soule's recent take on She-Hulk as the gamma-packed superhero trying to make her career as a lawyer work in a world where an Avengers reputation could be as much of a yoke of hindrance as a badge of honour for her everyday aspirations. Now, in a post Civil War II (ugh) Marvel Universe, writer Mariko Tamaki picks up the fractured pieces of Jennifer's life and delivers a genuinely solid look into depression, anxiety and the aftermath of emotional trauma that transcends the superhero genre in which this title will inevitably sit. Tamaki's grasp of Jen's inner narrative is pitch perfect as she faces her personal demons whilst navigating the tests of an average New York day. Having been the Emerald Amazon on a pretty permanent basis for much of the past decade, Jen's reversion to her human form makes for an interesting slant and I particularly like the early suggestion that her Hulk form could represent the negative manifestation of her trauma where once it was the huge, empowering positive in her life. Leon's artwork is kind on the eye, merging a light, fresh line style with nods to manga expressions and he, along with colourist Matt Milla, do a fine job of flicking between the airy light moments and those darker times when the claws of anxiety start to dig in. An incredibly promising start and #2 is a definite lock in for me. 9/10

Writer: Si Spurrier
Art: Conor Boyle & Giulia Brusco
Titan $3.99

Stewart R: Writing a book involving animals or creatures that are not fully anthropomorphized 'characters' has to be a hard thing to do at the best of times as it becomes the primary responsibility of the artist to convey their actions with superfine precision to push the plot onward. With a shark as the focus this would be even harder to convey as the range of movements and motions for the aquatic predator could be somewhat restrictive from a storytelling perspective. Better then to have your Selachimorpha as a menacing force of nature, lurking unseen beneath the surface of both waves and story and in that regard Si Spurrier and Conor Boyle have done a fine job. The opening pages are the greatest type of 'dark and brooding' as a lone figure is consumed by the lethal chaos swirling around them while Spurrier's simplified, punctuating, almost poetic narration hints at a 'knowing' underneath the ocean swells. From there his familiar flair for dialogue comes to the fore as a delightful mix of scientists, Somali pirates and Navy SEALS are thrown together in chuckle-inducing fashion. There's a fresh, tongue-in-cheek depiction to these characters which stops Hook Jaw from taking itself too seriously and importantly makes the sobering, simplified terror of the titular behemoth more palpable as a result. In other (groan-causing) words, Hook Jaw #1 is well worth a nibble! 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jeff Lemire
Image $5.99

Matt C: Some may try to argue that the high production values on display here along with the extended page count can lead to an unwarranted perception that this is ‘important’ book. Throwing money at something doesn’t make it ‘better’. Truth be told though, After Death could be written and illustrated on toilet paper and it would still be an utterly enveloping read, full of emotional, insightful  commentary on the nature of mortality and the fragility of the human body (but I’m glad it’s on high grade paper, of course!). It’s powerful stuff, probably Snyder’s strongest writing to date, and Lemire’s artwork is as extraordinary as ever at conveying the depth of feeling within the characters.  With one more extended issue to go, this is already looking like a masterful achievement from both creators, one that will likely always sit near the top of their respective bibliographies. 10/10

Writer: Nathan Fairbairn
Art: Matt Smith & Nathan Fairbairn
Image $3.99

Stewart R: This fifth and final issue sees what's left of the retinue of Crusaders and townsfolk attempt to flee the alien hive craft as enemies attack them on multiple fronts. The story doesn't deviate from this line throughout and as a result it actually remains a relatively unpredictable and tense read from cover to cover. Fairbairn and Smith deliver a visceral fight for survival as Sir Raymond, Sir Hugh and Bernadette all face varied threats and lethal tests that leave you wondering if anyone will escape the deathtrap they have staggered into. I'll admit that I've lost track of who is who with at least two of the characters in Lake Of Fire thanks to both being young men who, illustrated in near identical armour, could be mistaken for one another, but the impact hasn't been lessened as a result and if anything the strength of the storytelling and the creators sticking to a simple, effective plan makes me want to go back through and reread the whole series to dispel my befuddlement. A solid effort certainly makes me want to see more from this creative team. 8/10

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn & David Baron
Valiant $3.99

Stewart R: Having established Divinity aka Abram Adams' place within the Valiant Universe through the first two volumes, it's terrific to see Kindt now start to fully play with the world and deliver a 'what if' setup that feels genuine in its conception and threat to the status quo. A brief, written timeline of the restructured world order gives this alternate reality a sense of scale and scope before we're dropped into the modern day reality of this brutal Communist landscape where threats to the sanctity of the Motherland are dispatched with ruthless precision by all too familiar faces. The one voice who recognises that the reality has been altered is given a great undercover role, and through subtle characterisation on Hairsine's part, along with Kindt's use of a diary log narrative, the reader feels every bit of that character's weariness and isolation in a world so very foreign to him, where once friends would now consider him an enemy of the state. This creative team navigated the first two volumes of Divinity without dropping a beat and one the looks of this they're looking to repeat the success again! 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Bachalo, Jorge Fornés, John Livesay, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Victor Olazaba & Antonio Fabela
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Aaron is in full flow now as he continues to pull Stephen Strange through the most bizarre corners and confrontations of his personal, mystical universe following the decimation of magic by the ranks of the Empirikul. Here, he has Strange at the mercy of the Orb, the crazy ocular villain who claimed one of The Watcher's eyes back in the Original Sin event and who now goes about his bizarre self-initiated mission of 'helping people' by watching the insane and the uninitiated criminals and pushing them to 'achieve their potential'. It's batshit crazy and it's simply glorious. In the space of just a few issues, Aaron has explored the rogues gallery of Doctor Strange and added his own delicious flourishes, Bachalo here helping with his deft touch and timing for the darkly comedic. Unfortunately Bachalo may well be having a little trouble with the regular schedule for this book as Jorge Fornés is brought in to provide odd pages of line work here and there and the two styles do not match at all, leading to a juddering reading experience. Honestly Marvel, let Bachalo work at a 10-issue-a-year pace (or less) and maybe push the sister Doctor Strange And The Sorcerers Supreme book if you really need to!? I'll also add the continued presence of Mordo and Dormammu feels a touch forced for the recent movie's sake when characters like Orb and Mister Misery appear to offer more tantalising and interesting options. A few cracks don't however shatter the whole premise and there's still much to enjoy about this slightly flawed book. 7/10

Writers: Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello
Art: Andy Kubert, Laus Janson & Brad Anderson
DC $5.99

Matt C: It started off much better than expected but, delays aside, it’s feels like it’s being strung out far longer than necessary, the padding slowing the momentum so that tedium sets in. There’s clearly an intention to rebuild the JLA here (particularly with the mini-comics), which suggests increased potential for further sequels, and while that makes business sense, from a narrative standpoint it does dilute the core tale of Batman and Superman’s battle with the Kryptonians. The art’s as excellent as you’d expect from the creators involved but I’m sorry to say I’m bored now, and just riding it out until the conclusion. 5/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña & Matt Hollingsworth
Image $3.99

Stewart R: It seems that nearly every book Remender is writing these days plays off of a specific element or elements of the zeitgeist. We've mentioned in our reviews how Low looks at themes of depression and hope, Black Science at misuses of knowledge, the weakeness of man, the strength of family, Deadly Class at the fleeting, fickle nature of youth and the risks that trust brings with it. Here, in this latest chapter of Seven To Eternity, Remender brings the magnifying mirror to bear upon the current political climate of mistrust, the paranoia that grows strong in the stagnancy, the peddling of misinformation and empty promises to the weary, worrying masses. The message is stark and clear, but fits incredibly well within the fabric of this fantasy universe, where the Mud King holds the fate of millions of lives in his duplicitous hands with his tempting whispers. Despite their heroic mission, Adam and the Mosak warriors bicker and quarrel constantly as the weight of the task and the lies and secrets floating about them all take a toll and decision making becomes a tougher and tougher proposition. It's engaging storytelling and in all honesty what else would we expect from this talented creative combo?! 9/10

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