23 Apr 2017

Mini Reviews 23/04/2017

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.

SECRET EMPIRE #0
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Daniel Acuna & Rod Reis
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: It's the culmination of the plotline Nick Spencer began when he had the Cosmic Cube-altered Captain America exclaim “Hail Hydra!”, prompting idiotic furore from certain elements of fandom who don’t get how storytelling works. And now here we are, as Steve Rogers moves himself into a position of supreme power under the noses of friends and colleagues, and when the veil is lifted it’s clear they never saw it coming. Spencer has expertly crafted the build-up to this stage, and while it’s a thrill to see it all fall into place, even if you were to come to this cold it flows so well that it would be hard not to get a kick out of its devious delivery. There are antecedents in sci-fi/fantasy fiction – think Palpatine’s rise in the Star Wars saga – but it’s hard not to see parallels with the current political climate, and although Spencer started this storyline before the world really got turned on its head, he seems to have become more emboldened to work in certain themes as time has gone on (and if the rumours are to believed, the heavy political referencing is – sadly – something Marvel will be shying away from in future). Reis provides the 1945 prologue visuals while Acuna focuses on the contemporary bulk of the issue, both giving the proceedings an intense, broody flavour which slots nicely together with the tone of the script. We like to moan about the prevalence of ‘events’ at the Big Two but every once in a while they get on a concept that really works. We’re only one issue in, but it appears like this could be one of those occasions. 8/10

PLASTIC #1
Writer: Doug Wagner
Art: Daniel Hillyard
Image $3.99

Jo S: Ah, love! Or perhaps, in this case, more ‘Ew, love?’ This tale of romance opens by introducing us to the unchangingly beautiful, silent yet perma-surprised Virginia and her adoring partner, Victor, as they indulge in window-steaming passion in his parked car. Clearly Victor is smitten with his paramour and we see him tend to her every need, locating her favourite donuts, dreaming of whisking her away to romantic Rome and… searching for a softer cleaning brush? Sadly, the outside world intrudes on this sweet idyll and Victor’s lapse into temptation leads the ‘couple’ into the path of evident non-romantic Thaddeus Belliveau; he has an offer of employment for Victor which he cannot refuse if he is to keep his sweet Virginia to himself. An entertaining twist on the husband forced to kill to save his kidnapped wife, this book makes great use of its hero’s reactions: on finding a saucy plastic figure of a girl in a bikini in the car boot, Victor hides it rapidly, clearly concerned that Virginia will spot it and be offended (well, she'd certainly continue to look shocked); in the kidnappers’ den, we see him assessing the room in detail and realise he is certainly no harmless rube. A great start for a story, I look forward to the second installment and just hope I can hang on to my lunch if there are more scenes like the one where a henchman lingeringly licks Virginia’s fabric calf. As my mum would say, "Put that down, you don’t know where it's been". 8/10

ROYAL CITY #2
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Image $3.99

James R: I'll get it out the way straight off: this is my book of the week and a thing of beauty. We've been applauding the genius of Jeff Lemire for a while now, and for me Royal City represents the creator at the top of his game. Now, the more tricky part; as a reviewer, I need to say a little on what happens in the issue, but doing so gives away the big secret. At a point where the story is still nascent, I don't want to spoil the secret of the Pike family, so all I will say is that this second chapter reveals more about the lives of brothers Richard and Patrick, and the differing crises that dominate them. Lemire's art just seems to get better and better too - his work here seems deeper and richer, and his use of colour is beautiful. There's also a nod to his SF series Trillum for us fanboys, and all told, it's a magnificent book. 9/10

NICK FURY #1
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Aco, Hugo Petrus & Rachelle Rosenburg
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Comics is an artform that combines words and pictures in a way that, when it's done correctly, can’t be replicated in any other medium. Sometimes there’s a synergy between writer and artist(s) that elevates the work of both, sometimes a great script can be marred by a shoddy illustrations, sometimes the storytelling doesn’t match the visuals, but sometimes a writer will take an intentional step back to allow the art team to really soar. That seems to be the case here because Robinson delivers an effective if predictable script and then gets out of the way so Aco, Petrus and Rosenburg can really go to town, with a pop psychedelia approach that references the Steranko Nick Fury series from the ‘60s but quickly develops a dazzling life of its own. It’s an absorbing trip with Rosenburg’s colours in particular going for a lysergic Warhol vibe that works brilliantly. I suspect this is a tone-setter and we’ll get moving into a wider narrative soon, but in all honesty if it was an issue of Fury making some toast with the same kind of artistic invention displayed here, I’d still lap it up. 8/10

REDNECK #1
Writer: Donny Cates
Art: Lisandro Estherren, Dee Cunniffe
Image $3.99

Jo S: The pun-some title of this new book sets the scene neatly; we have a story of a family of vampires living (in a manner of speaking) on a small farm close to a Texas town. We meet at least three generations of family; brothers JV and Bartlett, and JV’s sons Seamus, Greg and Slap, as the boys are about to go into town - an ominously unusual event which looks rapidly to be leading for trouble - and then, briefly, Granpa, ‘that old bat’, confined to the attic of the house. We also meet Perry, a little girl who appears to have inherited Granpa’s knack for hearing people’s thoughts and perhaps therefore having a little skill for prescience. I didn't find much of the story to be original here: there's an old feud between families which is rekindled when the boys misbehave on their night out; strong male characters with long-standing (very long-standing!) grudges drive the story, and the idea of the vampires surviving on cow blood but craving more is nothing new. The interaction between the family members appealed to me though and I'm interested to see how Perry’s character links to ol’ Granpa and how the family’s relationship to the people of Sulphur Springs is developed. 6/10

BLACK HAMMER #8
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Arti: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: As if Royal City wasn't enough, this week I got Black Hammer, Descender and Moon Knight for my Lemire fix. I claimed last month that this is now my favourite ongoing superhero book, and this month Black Hammer effortlessly holds onto the title. We learn more about Gail, the Captain Marvel/Shazam analogue who has tragically become trapped in the body of her child alias. Gail's isolation is even worse than that of her fellow heroes - as a young girl, she's unable to live the life she had become accustomed to. The sense of sadness and loss is palpable on these pages, and when contrasted against the primary colour-goodness of the Marvel family/the Golden family, it makes for a powerful read. As usual, Dean Ormston's art and Dave Stewart's pencils perfectly capture the two worlds of Spiral City and Rockwood, and the end of the issue promises that this title is getting even better. A magical book in so many ways, Black Hammer continues to hit the spot. 9/10

BATWOMAN #2
Writer: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV
Art: Steve Epting, Jeromy Cox
DC $3.99

Jo S: A little confession to start this review: I'm really struggling to stick with the story on this one. Not because it's obscure or complicated - I've done a little homework on Batwoman and feel as if I have picked up the basics. It's not racing ahead particularly rapidly though - we're on the island of Coryana, where a Kate has spent some time previously with love interest Safiyah, yes, got that, some new characters, yes, I'm following all that, admittedly on a second read. It's just that it's so… utterly LUSH. The colours, the design, the layouts: it's all so stylish, with deliciously effective use of red and black; there are deep crimson roses and flowing capes and ravishing red hair and the lips, oh my goodness, the LIPS! Everyone in this book has perfect lips, and Kate Kane’s are utterly, totally distracting. Yes, I promise next time I'll concentrate harder on the story but, for now, I'm just wallowing in the sheer visual luxury. 7/10

INJECTION #12
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.99

James R: In the same way that it's a great week to be a Lemire fan, it's a good week for Warren Ellis fans too. This week sees both The Wild Storm and the continuation of Injection. Whilst The Wild Storm is almost boilerplate Ellis (bleeding edge tech, gruff characters, explosive violence) Injection was the more interesting read for me. In this arc, Ellis has Brigid Roth investigating the past, and an archaeological dig that's more than meets the eye. Part of the joy of reading Ellis' stuff is that there's usually an educational experience too - this month we learn about the potential historical origins of Merlin (you won't get that in Captain America!). Injection has a wonderfully British feel - as a son of these islands, Shalvey and Bellaire perfectly capture the encroaching gloom of a winter's afternoon. The mystery at the heart of the tale is nicely compelling too - I know we shouldn't be surprised when Warren Ellis creates a terrific series, but this was certainly the unexpected bonus book of the week. 8/10

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