9 Apr 2017

Mini Reviews 09/04/2017

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.

X-MEN: GOLD #1
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Art: Adrian Syaf, Jay Leisten & Frank Martin
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: The first of three titles due out in the next couple of weeks as Marvel attempts to reinvigorate the X-franchise and… it’s okay. Guggenheim brings us, for all intents and purposes, a ‘classic’ X-Men comic, and it’s fun and enjoyable as far as it goes. It all comes down to how much you’re prepared to indulge in all the familiar tropes over how you much you need a shake-up and at the very least the pretense of something different. I can’t deny I got a kick out of how it ticked a lot of the boxes, but is that enough? It’s good X-Men comics rather than essential X-Men comics, and it’s quite possibly sufficient to lead me to have a look at the second issue, but as there’s doubt in my mind over that then clearly it’s not quite the knockout it needed to be. One down, two more left to convince me that Marvel have found the right approach to getting this property back on track. 7/10

ELEANOR AND THE EGRET #1
Writer: John Layman
Art: Sam Keith & Ronda Pattison
Aftershock $3.99

Jo S: I have a little soft spot for art nouveau and this was what appealed immediately about this new short series. Having seen the cover only, I picked it up thinking it might push my steampunk buttons but it's actually much more delicately and beautifully rendered than I could have hoped. The first page introduces Eleanor in the style of a lushly elegant art nouveau poster, though it transpires she’s actually running through a swamp. The backstory for her meeting Ellis the Egret is obscure to start with; the story quickly switches style and topic to a daring art theft from a Paris gallery. Soon after, we meet Eleanor in her day job, and the style changes again; now Eleanor appears in almost kawaii style, with huge boots and a beaky, feathered secret barely hiding in her backpack. I loved this too-short introduction, particularly the little arty in-joke, tactfully signposted for those who might miss it. Witty and utterly delightful. 8/10

BLACK CLOUD #1
Writers: Jason Latour & Ivan Brandon
Art: Greg Hinkle & Matt Wilson
Image $3.99

James R: I should really like Black Cloud as it's a book about the power of stories and imagination, and I love the creative team - Jason Latour is brilliant, and I loved Greg Hinkle's work on Airboy. Sadly, this first issue didn't do it for me. Partly, the problem is that it's treading a very well-worn path; Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and recently Matt Kindt have written comics about imaginary worlds bleeding into 'reality', and those are some mighty big shoes to fill. I didn't see anything in this opening chapter to make me think that Latour and Brandon have something new to add to the concept, and even though Hinkle's art is superb again, that's not enough to warrant a place on my pull-list. I've no doubt that this book will really connect with a lot of readers, but sadly this grizzled old geek has seen these clouds before. 6/10

Jo S: Jason Latour’s work on Southern Bastards was one of my first big ‘wow’ moments in comics so I was keen to see what appeared in this new series. Just as with Southern Bastards though, I came for the writing but stayed for the colours! The mixing of striking rich colour with monochrome make the - well, I'll call them dream sequences for now - jump right off the page for me. Our hero, the mysterious Ms Barrett, has influence in a number of surprising circles. Introduced as a panhandler and petty thief, hawking… dreams? on the city streets, she unfolds a story of a different parallel world, to which just a few have access via a mysterious misty pool. Whilst she appears to be selling access to a fantasy life to those who want to escape their humdrum reality, we learn that there may be darker motives behind her choice of clientele. There are hints at complexity in the structure of the alternate world which I look forward to seeing extended in future issues. 8/10

PROVIDENCE #12
Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows & Juan Rodriguez
Avatar $4.99

James R: What a finale. Providence has been one of the most remarkable series of the decade, and with issue #12, Alan Moore concludes a project that began to take shape in the mid-’90s. There's no real surprises in this coda, but that's the point - the horror of Lovecraft is that we are adrift in a meaningless universe, and a glimpse of the void is all it takes to drive us mad. The characters from Moore's earlier series, The Courtyard and Neonomicon return to create a nativity for a new god: Cthulu. As he has done since the first issue of The Courtyard, Jacen Burrows produces an immaculate book, his images packed with detail, wonderfully fusing the real with the nightmarish. I’ll have a more in-depth review of Providence, and Moore's Lovecraft cycle, up soon so I won't say much more for now, but if Providence really is Moore's last comic book series, it's an incredible bow - the word 'genius' is absolutely fitting here. 10/10

Matt C: As what’s arguably been his finest comic book work in many, many years comes to close, it feels as if it robs itself of its unnerving power at the last hurdle. It’s clearly the ending Moore wanted, but perhaps it’s not the ending it needed? After sticking closely to Robert Black through the majority of the series we now find ourselves in a contemporary environment where Lovecraftian ideas have spilled over and merged into the perceived world, and while it’s still compelling, disturbing and elegantly crafted, from a narrative perspective it feels less than satisfying. I can see what Moore is doing here, emphasising how stories can affect and shape reality, along with referencing his earlier Lovecraft-inspired works (The Courtyard, Neonomicon) but after investing in a single character for so long, on so many levels, there is a sense of unfinished business running through the issue. It’s been a powerful, enveloping comic, and could easily rank as one Moore’s best once it’s had time to settle, but I think at this moment in time my expectations were about a specific direction, one that Moore chose not to follow. That’s probably a temporary path to acceptance and truly, if you love the writer’s work – or, to put it another way, if you love the medium of comics – then this was an unquestionably essential series. 7/10

JESSICA JONES #7
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Michael Gaydos & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It’s adult superhero drama, and while some people out there probably consider that an oxymoron, this series continues to prove that a more mature approach can be taken within the confines of the Marvel Universe and work brilliantly. It won’t appeal to everyone – some want their spandex and soap opera and nothing more – but Jessica Jones brings in real, relatable emotions while showing the difficulties that life as an adult can thrown up on a daily basis. It’s mentally engaging in that respect, but also, because of the subject matter, it can be viscerally exciting, and Maria Hill’s appearance here suggests that another potent piece of storytelling is on the agenda. 8/10

James R: In the first arc of Jessica Jones, Bendis reminded us of just why Alias was such a brilliant book. In the first issue of this new arc, he also reminds us of one of his most infuriating traits: the decompressed storyline. In 20 pages, Jessica talks to Danny Rand, tracks down Luke Cage, attempts a reconciliation, and then finds Maria Hill waiting in her office. 20 pages. I know some people will say that this style gives the book narrative space, or gives a more realistic feel to proceedings, but my first thought on reaching the final page was, 'That could have been done in five pages'. It's not enough to make me drop the book - I'm keen to see just what the Maria Hill plot is - but it's the sort of thing I have much less patience for these days. The art from Gaydos is great as always, and it's the one redeeming feature in this flat chapter. 6/10

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