21 May 2017

Mini Reviews 21/05/2017

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.

ELEANOR AND THE EGRET #2
Writer: John Layman
Art: Sam Kieth & Ronda Pattison
Aftershock $3.99

Jo S: Boy, was I looking forward to this issue #2 and I wasn’t disappointed. This episode of the tale of magical art thieves Ellis and Eleanor opens with a prologue in which the elegantly columnar Detective Belanger pursues the lead found at the scene of the theft of a new work of art by the famous Anastasia Rüe - a single white feather - to the beautifully eccentric zoo. We see Eleanor and her accomplice pull off another daring theft and meet Mademoiselle Rüe herself (think Helena Bonham-Carter playing Cruella de Ville). The story is intriguing and sweet - Belanger seems to have a little soft spot for Eleanor and his reluctance to divulge that she is a suspect is delicately expressed - but it's the visuals that raise this book way above the norm. Kieth’s graceful art nouveau set pieces, stylish page structure and subtle way with faces are all complimented by Pattison’s exquisite colours. The use of different media cleverly highlights different moods in the story: Pattison switches to delicately blended coloured pencils for a scene at the police station; when the detective is helping to produce a sketch of the suspect, Kieth draws him sketchily too. The giant ‘Boo Hiss’ final scene has me on tenterhooks for the next episode. 8/10

ROYAL CITY #3
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Image $3.99

James R: I have nothing much to add to my ongoing admiration and love for the talent of Jeff Lemire - as you might expect, this third chapter of Royal City sees Lemire on assured form as the family drama of the Pikes continues to unfold and the mystery grows even more fascinating. What I wanted to highlight is just how enjoyable it is to lose oneself in this title - we have often said here that Image Comics have become like the HBO of comics, and Royal City feels like a high-quality prestige drama, paced to perfection, and given a great sense of heartbreak and loss. It's also got an excellent soundtrack too, with Lemire's Spotify playlist adding an extra dimension to the experience. Still regal in every way, Royal City is now neck and neck with Lemire's Black Hammer as my favourite ongoing title.  9/10

SECRET EMPIRE #2
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Andrea Sorrentino & Rod Reis
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: This rather great event book continues apace, switching the focus away from Hydra Cap and his cronies and onto the various heroes attempting to avoid being crushed under the jackboot and fight back against the man they once viewed as the greatest among them. Things are dark and desperate, with Rick Jones’ posthumous message causing friction and unease over which path to take in their fight against Hydra. Sorrentino brilliantly captures the sense of fading hope with imagery that strikes the perfect blend of bleakness and intensity, his inventive panel structures and artistic trickery frequently astounding, adding to the sense of this being a huge, world-changing tale. Spencer is being bold and mischievous with his storytelling, and nowhere is that more obvious than the devious cliffhanger in this issue. Ignore the naysayers; this is blockbusting comics at their finest. 8/10

BATMAN #23
Writer: Tom King
Arti: Mitch Gerads
DC $2.99

James R: As much as I love Tom King, I had stepped back from picking up Batman regularly as I feel King is inhibited a little in Gotham - the inevitable crossovers and event books that are the hallmark of the Big Two these days don't leave a lot of room for idiosyncratic story telling. However, I decided to pick this up as it sees the writer reunited with his Sheriff Of Babylon co-creator, Mitch Gerads. That series was one of the highlights of 2016 (and I eagerly await the follow-up) and so the chance to see them reunited here was too good to ignore. I am really pleased I did, as this one-shot has one of the surprises of the year. Swamp Thing makes an appearance in Gotham following the death of his biological father, and the creature who was once Alec Holland requires Batman's help to track down the killer. It was a joy to read a Batman story that was almost old-school in it's form - high on actual detective work, great character observation and interplay, and a suitably dark resolution. King and Gerads were both magnificent here, and it was a timely reminder that a great creative team can breathe life into any title - I can't wait to see how they do with Mister Miracle.  8/10

THE FOREVER WAR #4
Writer: Joe Haldeman
Art: Marvano
Titan $3.99

Jo S: I have to admit that I'm starting to find this tough going now, not because it isn't brilliant - it is! - but because the grim reality of the title is now setting in hard. William Mandella and Marygay Potter have returned home from Taurus as aliens on their home planet, dinosaurs from whom the world has moved on decades, leaving them lost and disconnected from the modern environment. Mandella’s mother passes away in miserable circumstances which might have been prevented if she were considered valuable to society and this is the last straw: he and Potter re-enlist and travel to the Moon, the military life now the only home they know. Haldeman’s writing is almost documentary in its simple clear style and the near-neutral tone in which horrifying and yet more horrifying news is delivered serves to highlight how the brutality of war and wartime politics become normalised; acceptable and almost comforting in their familiar patterns. The final four pages, spare of text and drawn to show the slow passing of the worst night in a life, are a testament to how well this story, originally written as a novel, has adjusted to graphic form. 7/10

BRITANNIA: WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE #2
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Juan Jose Ryp & Frankie D'Armata
Valiant $3.99

James R: Britannia continues to be an unexpected gem. Following a great opening last month, Milligan builds on the promise of the first issue with an equally enjoyable delve into the arena. Antonius Axia's investigations lead him to discover more about the fearsome Achillia, who has become a hero for the women of Rome. The role of gender is very much the focus of the plot here, with Milligan highlighting that by Nero's time, women weren't the equals of men, but women can escape the restrictions of culture and law. The more cerebral elements are nicely balanced with some great sword & sandals staples (cut throats aplenty, a suitably mad Nero). Ryp's pencils are complimented nicely by D'Armata's colours, and the academic essay on women in Rome is a great bonus. I hope Valiant keep Britannia going; I'm certainly giving the regal thumbs up to more cases for detectioner Axia.  8/10

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