26 Feb 2017

Mini Reviews 26/02/2017

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, encompassing the good, the bad, and those that lie somewhere in between.

THE OLD GUARD #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Leandro Fernandez & Daniela Miwa
Image $3.99

James R: Greg Rucka is one of the PCG's long-established favourites - his books regularly appear in the Paradoscars, and he's one of those creators whose new work I would buy sight unseen. With The Old Guard, Rucka is back in one of his familiar grooves - the world of espionage and military conflict. In Lazarus, the titular warriors are capable of regenerating slowly thanks to science, but the protagonists of The Old Guard are gifted and cursed by a more ethereal healing factor (if you think of Wolverine's healing factor, you're thereabouts.) This first issue introduces us to the now-ancient veterans who have fought on countless battlefields, and now operate as mercenaries for hire... and find themselves drawn in to a nefarious plot that may expose their identities. Rucka does his usual magical job of world-building and pulling you into the narrative straight away. The issue simply flies past, and by the last page I was under no doubt that I wanted more. My only reservation comes over the art - Fernandez' pencils are incredibly stylised, with characters rendered in a way that looks cartoonish at points. I will probably grow to like it, but for me Rucka's books are even better when the artist gives a greater sense of verisimilitude. A supremely confident opening though, this 'Old Guard' promises lots of new surprises. 8/10

Matt C: As expected, another supremely confident debut issue from Greg Rucka, exemplifying his command of the medium and showing why he consistently remains in the top tier of comic book writers. Four immortal soldiers who have there own set of rules to sustain their anonymity find the 21st century more of a challenge and may soon discover they are not alone. It’s a cleverly positioned, thoughtful first chapter that employs tension at the most effective moments, with Frernandez getting all the intensity down on the page (as well as portraying men born centuries ago in a thoroughly convincing manner) while Miwa goes for an effectively vivid colour scheme. An unquestionably impressive opener. 8/10

DESCENDER #19
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen
Image $3.99

James R: One of the problems of serialised longform storytelling in the 21st century is that often, life gets in the way. As much as I love a particular title, there gets to be a point (usually about issue #20) where I will pick up the next installment and think "Now wait... Who the hell is this, what's happening?!" However, that's not occurring with Descender, and that's testament to Lemire and Nguyen for constructing a sprawling, epic tale that remains so well focused and defined. This issue is very much a plate-spinner, as Lemire shifts his dramatis personae; Tim-22 continues to spy on 21's allies as they search for Doctor Solomon, and Andy is faced with a terminal decision concerning a long-established favourite. As always, it is just beautiful to look at - Dustin Nguyen is truly doing the best work of his career on this title. As we come up to issue #20, Descender continues to be effortlessly good, and gives a narrative that leaves an indelible mark. 8/10

ROCKET RACOON #3
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Art: Jorge Coelho & Antonio Fabela
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: As an almost total newbie to the comics scene, Rocket Raccoon #1 was the first issue #1 I chose for myself, rather than taking a recommendation from one of the PCG team. Looking at the cover art for #2 and #3, I'm reminded of what drew me to the debut; yes, I can't deny it was mostly because the little guy looks cute and fuzzy, and maybe I was looking for something a little more light-hearted than what the boys were recommending? Plus Rocket is easily my favourite GotG character (“Heyyy, I'm walking here!”). The content doesn't disappoint though; whilst the cover Rocket is distinctly fluffy, inside he's drawn with sharpness and an angular essence which reflects his sharp wit and spiky nature. The feisty little fuzzball pilot (definitely NOT a raccoon) is trapped on Earth and is trying to find a way to escape this planet full of whackos; each time he seems to see a possible way out, it's suddenly wrenched out of his paws and he's dragged further into trouble. As with Guardians writing generally, much meta-humour is made out of playing off one set of comic book heroes against another, and taking the mickey out of the hero genre more generally: at city cop gunpoint, Rocket claims in a panic to be one of the X-Men; on hearing the click of a safety snapping off, he changes whip-fast to claiming Avengers allegiance. The slump of his shoulders on being forced to claim he is ‘Raccoon Man’ is the picture of defeated resignation. It's not all fluffy rodents and snappy one-liners though - it's hard to avoid seeing dark parallels in a story where the rights of aliens are limted and those who break the rules are hunted down, but equally it's tricky not to chuckle aloud when a hobo asks the bad guy “Who are you talking to buddy?” and gets the deadpan response “I am monologuing.” 8/10

THANOS #4
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Mike Deodata & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The titular villain takes a backseat in this issue as the focus falls upon his son, Thane, enlightening us on how he set upon his current path where the death of his father is his endgame. It's the brooding artwork and Lemire’s keen sense of character and emotion that help make this much, much more than just an excuse to keep Thanos in the spotlight during the lead up to Avengers: Infinity War. There’s a sense of pathos that undercuts the cosmic shenanigans and makes the entire enterprise far more resonant than it would be in less accomplished hands. The longevity of this series is questionable, but currently it’s another essential book from Lemire. 8/10

LOOSE ENDS #2
Writer: Jason Latour
Art: Chris Brunner & Rico Renzi
Image $3.99

James R: This second chapter of Loose Ends is another slice of Southern crime served up with relish by Jason Latour - there's nothing here you haven't seen before, but it's still a great read. A large part of that is due to Chris Brunner's innovative and energetic pencils. Throughout the issue, we're treated to small logograms that float over character's heads like twisted versions of what you'd see in an old Looney Toons cartoon. It's certainly more effective than a thought bubble, and it keeps the narrative surprising and fresh. There's also a moment where Brunner expresses a spark of electricity between Sonny and Cheri, and it's simple but incredibly effective. I often say great comics happen when writer and artist are perfectly in sync, but there's also something magical when an artist injects their flair to raise the book up a notch. Loose Ends is a gritty read where you can enjoy the unique voice that comics can carry. 7/10

HULK #3
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Art: Nico Leon & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The slow burn continues. Any Hulking out is still only a tease at this point with Jen continuing to acclimatise to her new situation and steadfastly avoiding any triggers that may set her off (e.g. any mention of her departed cousin). The mystery at the heart of the plot remains elusive, and it’s like watching a pressure cooker waiting to blow. Obviously there’s another element waiting to ignite though, and that's constantly hinted at by the cleverly deceptive covers from Jeff Dekal that suggest violence and anger on a surface scan but really hint at what’s bubbling under that surface, ready to erupt (and there’s no way we’re not seeing that happen sooner rather than later). A surprisingly vital title that shows Marvel often does its best work on the fringes. 8/10

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