26 Mar 2017

Mini Reviews 26/03/2017

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.

IRON FIST #1
Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Mike Perkins & Andy Troy
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I was pleased to note on picking this one up that the start point is totally different from the half-episode of the new Iron Fist TV series I've got around to watching. We begin our tale at a point in Danny Rand’s life where his connection to his powers has been severed. His fighting skills are undiminished though and we follow his attempts, through brawling and illegal fight clubs, to find a worthy challenge for his skills. Rand is frustrated; he seems half a person, drinking to blank out the dissatisfaction which seems to be overwhelming him. These initial fight scenes are bluntly drawn; muscle and grime, sweat and blood spatter. Rand is like a zoo animal; I was reminded of Sherlock Holmes, constantly seeking a mental challenge and desperate to find an opponent worthy of his skills, blotting out the dullness of everyday people with opiates. Then, just as it looks as if he will numb himself entirely, suddenly the tone changes (in fact, the colour literally changes: the first half of the book is in blues and greens; turn a page and suddenly the mood is red and orange, as if a fire has suddenly relit). A real challenger presents himself, a master of kung fu (is that a Bruce Lee beckon? Nice touch if so) and makes an offer Rand can finally feel inspired by. It's an interesting touch to label the kung fu moves executed in the significant fight, serving to accent the difference between the initial low-skilled brawling and Choshin’s more educated style of fighting. Brisson promises "a good old-fashioned kung fu story" - I look forward to that. 7/10

BLACK HAMMER #7
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: With every issue, my love for Black Hammer grows ever deeper. So far Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston have done a remarkable job at playing with classic superhero tropes and mixing them with philosophical questions and very recognisable human emotions. In this issue they add even more ingredients to the mix as we learn the origin of the eponymous hero. One part Green Lantern, one part Thor and a large helping of Jack Kirby's New Gods, the origin of Black Hammer also acts as the motivation for his daughter Lucy's desperate quest to find him. It's a hard feeling to articulate, but Black Hammer just pushes so many of the right buttons for me, it feels like a 'complete' comic. It is an unashamed nod to the madness that is superhero comics, whilst also being an utterly involving story in its own right. How good is Black Hammer? If it keeps going like this, I would be willing to place it in the same bracket as Watchmen and Planetary as one of the finest books 'about' comics, and I cannot give it higher praise than that. Outstanding in every way, Black Hammer is the best superhero book being published today. 9/10

THE FEW #3
Writer: Sean Lewis
Art: Hayden Sherman
Image $4.99

Jo S: I have to put my hands up and confess with this; I just didn’t get the first couple of issues of The Few. Despite warm recommendations from PCG regulars, I kept picking it up and putting it down again, not quite managing to dig in and engage. The scratchy artwork and initial obscurity of narrative meant it felt like more work that I wanted to invest. I'd taken issue #3 off my list this week but something made me change my mind and this morning I finally gritted my teeth and got stuck in. It's not insignificant that today is Mother's Day because motherhood is what finally made this click for me. This issue continues with the choppy timeline approach of the first two; again, I confess, I didn’t realise until going back to it this morning that much of the story is in flashback. We learn much more about Hale’s past and what set her on her path, particularly her desire to serve (I saw parallels with Batwoman here; a strong military father, the drive to be loyal in a practical way) and the conflict her loyalty causes her. Throughout, Hale is all about contrasts and inner conflicts; she has killed, but we do not learn until this issue how very significant one of these deaths is to her current situation. She is depicted as almost gender-neutral - it's clear she wanted to be just like her brothers, just like her father; there is no soft feminine influence in the flashbacks to her upbringing. And yet, when she finds herself to be responsible for a baby, a child of her erstwhile enemy, to whom she cannot even seem to be able to give a name, she acquiesces to ensuring his survival by learning to nurse him herself. This was the ‘click’ moment for me; Hale is my new superhero. I won't deny I'm still finding the story confusing - even a full re-read has left me with a few ‘huh?’ moments - but I think future issues will be nearer the top of my 'To Read' list. 7/10

Matt C: There’s a definite Mad Max vibe running through this series, which is not to say it’s a knock-off, rather it has that same sense of desolation and desperation; it’s a world where hope is hard to find, and surviving usually comes at a cost. There’s more tech in play here than George Miller's post-apocalyptic adventures, and Edan Hale is being further revealed as someone with blood on her hands whose motivations aren’t always clear. Each bulky issue expands the scope of the narrative, indicating there’s much more to come, and with Sherman’s scratchy, energetic artwork (reminiscent of Frank Miller on occasion) building the intensity, it seems like following The Few wherever it leads is a wise move. 8/10

CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #14
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Jesus Saiz & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I guess this is scratching my old school superhero adventure itch because, even though I frequently read the recap intro and think, “I don’t remember that!”, and even though it’s blatantly obvious this is leading into a crossover event (Secret Empire), I’m still getting genuine thrills from the way Spencer is constructing this storyline. It’s got a contemporary vibe but it definitely takes a more classic approach to the set up, with the new High Council of Hydra being pulled together in a most entertainingly dramatic fashion. It’s great that Jesus Saiz is back in control of the art because, while the visuals haven’t seen any off-putting dip in quality, the slickness he brings to the proceedings is always welcome. Having only started picking up this series after the furore kicked up following that first issue reveal, I’m fairly surprised to be here, 14 issues later, but Spencer is clearly doing something worthwhile and exciting with this character again, and it’s more than enough to keep me hanging around. 8/10

DESCENDER #20
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen
Image $3.99

James R: I sometimes worry that I'm getting too vocal in my support of Jeff Lemire, and that longtime readers of the PCG will be rolling their eyes and thinking, '"We know you love him... can you not just review Batman instead?" And then we get a week like this where he's responsible for two superb comics, and my need to salute the Canadian genius is renewed! Kudos too for Dustin Nguyen - given how beautiful the pages of Descender are (it is the book that my non-comic reading friends often spot and go "Wow!" at the art) it is amazing that the it continues to come out bang on schedule. Beyond the epic galactic intrigue of the Harvesters and the UGC, Lemire wisely grounds this chapter in questions that are universal - When is retribution ever satisfied? What's the basis for prejudice? - and that makes for a very satisfying read. If you're not on board with Descender, it's also a title that I would recommend picking up in trade as it's an SF epic with scale and heart. 8/10

HULK #4
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Art: Nico Leon & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: To all intents and purposes, Jennifer Walters is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as she continues to cope with the personal aftermath of the events of Civil War II while trying to maintain a normal, working life (which inevitably becomes increasingly complicated due to the nature of the cases she takes on when in lawyer mode). Tamaki’s kept Jen’s alter ego as a tease since the beginning of the series, and as the difficulties pile up it’s only a matter of time before we see the monster unleashed, but the fine characterisation and smooth, emotive artwork ensures a compelling, insightful narrative while we wait for things to explode. 8/10

HELENA CRASH #1
Writer: Fabian Rangel Jr
Art: Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
IDW $3.99

Jo S: Right, comics fans, get a firm grip on your Star Wars mug, and take a steadying gulp of strong joe; we're going to a dark place. Helena Crash is set in a future world where (I can barely say it) coffee has become so scarce that ‘dealing’ in the precious beans has become illegal. Our chic, tattooed heroin, sorry, heroine is a sword-toting, racecar-driving drug runner, with a passion for her product, a head for business and limited patience for those who aim to get in her way. Imagine Penelope Pitstop, wielding a katana and drawn by Picasso and you’ll get a feel for the style: I should imagine it's not to everyone’s taste but the wonky perspective and wacky (races?) aliens have a charm. That moment when the fresh bag of product is opened and the buyer takes a deep drag - aaaah, I can totally feel that. Looking forward to seeing what they ‘brew up’ next. 6/10

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