7 May 2017

Mini Reviews 07/05/2017

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 #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: People are having really strong negative reactions to this event series, and it’s interesting watching how they’re responding to this issue in particular, and how it possibly says more about them than it does the story itself, because, even within the confines of the superhero genre, this is edgy material, and it’s pushing buttons all over the place. The thing is, you strip it down to its core ingredients and Secret Empire isn’t original in the slightest: an alt-timeline created by cosmic tampering where the bad guys are in power and the heroes are on the backfoot. There are a whole slew of events over the years that have taken that as their central premise, so why is this tale in particular kicking up such a fuss? Are there too many elements that comment both directly and indirectly on situations unfolding in the real world? Possibly, and perhaps that’s the genius of the whole premise, watching a writer construct a smart, thrilling narrative that reflects what’s going on in a way that can rile people up, get them angry and – yes – get them thinking. Personally I believe this is Marvel at its most culturally aware; sure, it’s left-leaning and some will no doubt find it too near the knuckle, but it’s an audacious opening salvo, brilliantly illustrated, and an undeniable page-turner. Oh, and a reality-altering cosmic cube lies at the heart of the set-up, so perhaps some perspective is needed in some quarters, right? 8/10

THE DAMNED #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree
Oni Press $1.00

Matt C: A welcome return for this gangsters and demons series, and as he did with The Sixth Gun, Cullen Bunn shows he's impressively adept at inserting a convincing supernatural mythos into well-worn genre material. Perhaps he falls on cliché a touch at times, but overall there’s plenty to enjoy and absorb in the dark and detailed world he’s constructed, and along with Hurrt’s stylish and stylised art and Crabtree’s bold, confident colours, this is an obvious purchase at only a dollar. 7/10

JEAN GREY #1
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Art: Victor Ibáñez & Jay David Ramos
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I have a soft spot for Jean Grey; so powerful and strong whilst at the same time so fragile and full of anxiety. This series sees the original Jean Grey, young and relatively untested, pre-Phoenix, having recently been brought forward to the present. We meet Jean as she is trying to stay out of trouble, quietly enjoying noodles in a quiet Japanese street. She gives us a handy recap, firmly emphasising that she is NOT THAT JEAN GREY. She is filled with insecurity still, and convincing herself that occasional voices she hears in her head are just a side effect of her telepathy. Ibáñez makes a lovely job of Jean’s youthful look, with freckles and a cute snub nose, but the storytelling is ruthless; she is a bundle of anxiety, guilt and insecurity and the problems of her future-past self are cracking through into her present-future life. The reason I love Jean Grey is that, even when crushed by self-doubt, she still gets up, fights on and damn well does it anyway, and I'm rooting for her all the way. 8/10

JESSICA JONES #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art Michael Gaydos & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $3.99

James R: After feeling that the first chapter of the new arc - 'The Secrets Of Maria Hill' - was a return to Bendis' 'decompressed storytelling' (or 'timewasting' as us less sophisticated types put it), I was relieved to see that this issue was a return to form. The fun here is seeing Jessica Jones constantly questioning how much you can trust someone whose life is defined by subterfuge and misdirection. There's also a lot of fun to be had with Jessica's world-weary attitude and the 'real world' feeling of her rooftop chase with an assassin. As usual, Bendis and Gaydos present us with a tale in which Jessica is in way too deep - seeing how she'll dig her way out certainly keeps me coming back for more. With all the madness surrounding Secret Empire (for right or wrong) this feels like a corner of the Marvel Universe untouched by crossovers and events - long may it last. 7/10

BLACK BOLT #1
Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Art: Christian Ward
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I've been noticing page ads for this new series for a while; they've been intriguingly enigmatic and so I'd been thinking of picking it up. My pull-list this week was a monster, and I came close to cutting this one out, but I'm glad it crept in at the last moment! Black Bolt, once-king of the Inhumans, awakes to find himself incarcerated in a prison he had built for his treacherous brother, Maximus. The disorientation he feels as he comes to in this forsaken place is elegantly realised in a repeating sequence of waking nightmares, as the once-royal discovers how his mighty power has been rendered useless. The art in this debut issue is fantastic, setting itself way above anything else in my list this week, with dark brooding colours and dramatic Esher-evoking structures. There’s no excess of plot here but as a scene-setter, it's still engrossing, and as eye-candy it's rich and satisfying. Looking forward to the next. 8/10

Matt C: Christian War’s artwork is lively, vivid and persuasively psychedelic, suiting the tone of this tale of the ex leader of the Inhumans’ incarceration well, the cosmic colouring proving to be especially evocative. It’s therefore a bit of the shame that the story itself doesn’t really spark in the way it needs to, a kind of plodding pace that highlights how Marvel’s idea of the Inhumans’ place in their pantheon doesn’t always match the reality. It’s worthy but ultimately not enough happens to make it especially interesting, the art being the obvious highlight but not to the extent that convinces the story is sustainable at its current pitch. 5/10

SHIPWRECK #4
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Phil Hester & Mark Englert
Aftershock  $3.99

James R: After keeping the central premise of Shipwreck neatly clouded in mystery for the past three issues, Warren Ellis really fills in the blanks this month. We learn that Dr. Shipwright was part of a cross-dimensional project, and he and and Isham are far from the only crew members to jump to the alternative Earth. There's nothing particularly surprising or innovative here, but this is Ellis doing what he does best - the big idea science fiction project - and for me, that's more than enough. I have really enjoyed Phil Hester's art in this series, and he's great again this month, shifting gears from the arid environment of the alternative Earth to the cold and intricate design of the dimension ship with aplomb. In a quiet week for my pull-list, Shipwreck continues to be an effortless cruise from two of comics' greats. 8/10

CROAK #1
Writer: Cody Andrew Sousa
Art: Francesco Iaquinta
Alterna $1.50

Jo S: This week saw the release of a handful of low cover-price comics, several, like this one, printed excitingly on olde worlde newspaper style paper. So, what did I get for my $1.50? Well… I guess I got what I paid for. Croak opens as a tale of three friends hiking out into the woods to camp overnight. They are underprepared and bickering about trivialities. They settle in for the night, tell spooky stories and… well, anything else would be an underwhelming spoiler. I can see an argument that the artwork is designed to reflect the settling darkness of the night forest but the use of fish-and-chip quality paper and ink here means that the black areas appear dusty grey, making for an effect which is murky rather than spookily dark. There’s nothing I can find in the opening tale which is original but I guess if you were looking for a comfortingly ordinary story about teens lost in the woods, this would be a budget way to find it. 4/10

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