30 Apr 2017

Mini Reviews 30/04/2017

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.

BRITANNIA: WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE #1
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Juan Jose Ryp & Frankie D'Armata
Valiant $3.99

James R: One of my regrets from 2016 is that I missed the first series of Britannia, Peter Milligan's Roman Empire-set detective tale. Having seen it turn up on a lot of 'Best Of' lists, I was determined to check out the second adventure for Antonius Axia Rose. I'm pleased I sought it out - this issue wasn't quite what I expected, but it was a joy to read. Antonius becomes embroiled in a multiple-murder case in the eternal city, which might have something to do with a formidable female gladiator... Milligan's script wastes no time in setting up the case, giving us a whirlwind introduction to Nero's Rome. I was never a huge fan of Juan Jose Ryp's art when he worked with Warren Ellis, but this is great stuff from him - Frankie D'Armata's colours give his pencils a different dimension too. To round things off, the issue's backmatter is a great essay on gladiators in myth and reality, and that's the kind of thing I love in a comic. Absolutely worth your hard-earned denarii, I'm on board for this mystery. 7/10

THE OLD GUARD #3
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Leandro Fernández & Daniela Miwa
Image $3.99

Jo S: At the end of the second issue of this series it looked as though we might have gained a new member of the team but at almost the same instant lost one of its oldest standing members. This episode concentrates on fleshing out the history and role of Sébastien Lelivre, now known as Booker (although to a very small number of people), a counterfeiter, Napoleonic soldier, football fan and serial survivor. The book explores more deeply the tragedies and consequent necessities of living almost eternally; how relationships, families and any longstanding friendship with non-immortals must lead inevitably to agony and betrayal: the introduction of a newer character enables this exploration to move naturally. A full page is devoted to a protestation of love by one of the Guard for another which is skull-crackingly poetic and juxtaposed elegantly against the following violence. My favourite part of this story remains the fantastic page structures: on one page, the dense graffitti on a stairway wall forms something like a watermark under the cells containing the action; on another, a fireball blasts through a window, apparently knocking everything in the frame askew. 9/10

James R: Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández are definitely in the groove on this title. I am loving The Old Guard's time-hopping format, relishing learning how Andy and her team survived the centuries of conflict, and how the years may change but man's hostility remains constant. The other great constant though is love, and Rucka does a great job in this issue of showing the endurance -  yet frailty - of the human heart. The plot concerning Copley's mysterious employer almost seems secondary - but that's fine when the plot is in the hands of Greg Rucka. Once more, respect is due too to the colours of Daniela Miwa - this book has got an instantly recognisable look and feel due to her palette. A great story told with confidence and aplomb, The Old Guard stands firm. 8/10

WEAPON X #2
Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The best of the main trio of books to spin out of the X-Men: Prime ‘relaunch’ (I’m beginning to hate that word!) takes a slight dip in its sophomore outing, to all extents and purposes offering more of the same without progressing the plot too far forward. There’s some enjoyable action and some nice grizzly banter between the two most hirsute members of the cast, and Land’s art is much more appealing now he’s not so reliant on magazine posings, but what made the first issue so effective already feels a bit worn, which is never too reassuring two issues in. It’s still worth pursuing but needs a bit more variety to keep it engaging. 7/10

BLACK MONDAY MURDERS #5
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Tomm Coker & Michael Garland
Image $3.99

James R: This is a title that oozes class. From its epic (does Hickman do anything else?) first issue, Black Monday Murders has been a comic that showcases the greatness of the writer  and, increasingly, the outstanding work of Tomm Coker. This month we're introduced to Thomas Dane, a former CIA agent drawn into the dark world of the Rothschilds. What I love about this book, and Hickman's scripts per se, is that he demands your attention - these aren't comics to be casually flicked through, they're ones that reward a reader who wants to be educated as well as entertained. Coker's art is fantastic here, and with Michael Garland's dark and moody colours, it has a wonderful cinematic feel. One of my favourite titles, and a perfect example of just how good monthly comics can be. 9/10

KILL OR BE KILLED #8
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image $3.99

Matt C: Predictably, this was the standout title for the week for me once again. The trio of Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser now seem incapable of putting a foot wrong; this title drips with confidence and projects a complete mastery of the medium. After a couple of issues focusing on other characters we’re back with Dylan Cross here, and his narration continues to draw us on side, even though we’ve watched him commit murder at the behest of a (possibly imaginary) demon. His voice is strong enough, persuasive enough, and ‘truthful’ enough (from his own warped perspective) to cast us under his spell, the visual realism simply adding to the effect. I’m a broken record, but this is comics at its best. 8/10

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER #3
Writer: Marika Tamaki
Art: Joëlle Jones & Kelly Fitzpatrick
DC $5.99

Jo S: I won't deny, I was pretty dismissive about the first issue of this series; although I loved the artwork, I found the characterisation too lightweight and the development of the characters’ relationships felt too simple to grab much of my attention. I grumbled that Kara didn't have enough to worry about - that she seemed a pretty normal teen: an oyster without any grit won't form a pearl. The earthquake of #2 threw all of this into disarray though and #3 begins with the aftermath, as Kara, her family and her friends come to grips with the tragedy wrought by this unexplained disaster. A series of flashbacks also begin to explain that Kara already has the kind of guilt burden so often required to drive a true superhero, having caused a rift in her adoptive family, and this is further enriched as her agony over being suddenly unable to save her friend deepens and we start to see that the earthquake may not have happened in Kara’s home town by chance. I will complete this series because of the art though. I love the way that Jones draws teenagers - beautiful yet gawky, absorbed in the task at hand, unaware that they are being observed. The page where Kara, silently mourning her friend, sits with tear-burned eyes, gazing silently at the jolly smiling bear-shaped plastic bottle of pancake syrup, is simple perfection. 7/10

MIGHTY THOR #18
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I have a lot of time for this series, but while it has some standout moments it does often feel like it’s heartbeat away from being truly great rather than just pretty damn good. Pretty damn good is still, well, pretty damn good, and the title is in no danger of exiting my pull-list, but part of me thinks it’s not yer achieved its full potential. But saying that, the dazzling visuals are always diverting and there’s no doubt Aaron brings a lot of appealing ideas to the table. This issue throws back to his time on Wolverine & The X-Men with an appearance from Quentin Quire, and it’s fun, cleverly constructed, but ultimately feels a bit more lightweight than it should. A keeper for sure but if you cast your mind back to the opening pages of the first issue in this particular volume, or indeed much of Aaron’s work elsewhere, this title could arguably still go up a gear or two. 7/10

ROCKET RACCOON #5
Writer: Matt Rosenberg
Art: Jorge Coelho
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: C’mon! I couldn't NOT review this in the week that Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is released now, could I? Our hirsute homicidal hero begins the final issue of this volume as he effects his plans to liberate himself and a team of misfit pals from the alien detention centre where he has been incarcerated by S.H.I.E.L.D. after knocking over ‘one measly statue’ (you know, the one with the long dress and the spiky hat that stands on an island outside New York). Just as it looks as if the plan might work for all except our hero, substantial help appears from the most unlikely quarter, and Rocket is once again on the path to finding a way to escape Earth. Will he make it? Aw, that would be a spoiler too far! It's the little fuzzball’s sense of humour that keeps me coming back to this and I'm in awe of Rosenberg and Coelho’s ability to create laser-sighted comic timing on the comic book page. I've loved this whole series and will be looking out for more from these guys - and more Raccoon-led adventure! 8/10

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