25 Jun 2017

Mini Reviews 25/06/2017

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.

PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Adam Kubert & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: It’s been a long while since I’ve picked up a Spidey book. I appreciated the reasonings behind some of the tweaks the character’s experienced in recent years, and the temporary rejiggings of the template, but nothing really stuck in a way that I wanted to get personally involved. I think they lost me after Mephisto interrupted things. But also, there’s the core iteration of the character that resonates with me, and although I understand why remixes need to be worked in, I’ll always come back to the version of the wallcrawler that appealed to me in the first place. Enter this series, which really places emphasis on the central appeal of Spider-Man: the shambolic personal life, the motormouth approach to superheroism, and the implicit understanding of great power leading to great responsibility. Oh, and it also gets that hanging out with Spidey is FUN. Sure, not everything goes his way, but the engaging personality – when presented in the right way – keeps you firmly on side and willing to stick around. Kubert and Bellaire give things a lightness and an energy that compliments Zdarsky’s amusing, buoyant script. We even get reacquainted with the Peter Parker/Johnny Storm bromance (man, I miss the Fantastic Four!) and what’s not to like about that?? There could very well be a Spider-Man comic on my pull-list again, for the first time in many a year. 8/10

THE OLD GUARD #5
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Leandro Fernández & Daniela Miwa
Image: $3.99

Jo S: The Old Guard blazes into the final chapter of its opening arc with a betrayal at the very heart of the team looking to lead to an impossible-to-escape situation for Andy and her band of asymptotically mortal mercenaries. Every issue has gripped me; it has been my ‘read last to savour’ book throughout and this final issue didn't skip a single opportunity to drag me further in. Rucka writes hard-as-nails Andromache to perfection; Fern├índez draws faces which are completely credible as both ancient and young, wise and beguiled. The deep love between Joe and Nicky tugs on the heartstrings and the perfectly timed bitch-slapdown between Andy and Nile is sharply witty and warms me to both characters. For me, though, the highlights in this issue and throughout the series have been the fantastic full page panels showing the team in full effect, blasting their way into a room full of armed aggressors, teeth gritted and hair flying, bullets whirling and muzzle flash blazing: bravo! 10/10

ROYAL CITY #4
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Image $3.99

James R: I don't like using the word 'genius' as I think it gets thrown around too often in popular culture but, in the case of Jeff Lemire, I think this creative powerhouse is absolutely deserving of the label, and with the semi-retirement of Alan Moore, in my eyes, he's now the greatest creator working in mainstream comics. Royal City is a thing of pure beauty. This month, Lemire opens the chapter with a tour de force as Patrick Pike meditates on growing older and the passage of time. I'll admit that I'm the perfect age for this book - Mr Lemire and I are the same age, and so I can fully empathise with Patrick (Lemire's analogue in this title). Not only is it written beautifully but Lemire also uses the medium brilliantly, with a series of illustrations that mark the passage of time and and spatial inertia. If this all wasn't enough his taste in music is brilliant too: I have loved the Spotify playlists curated by the writer/artist for each issue of this title. Finally, he teases that issue #6 will 'take quite a shift' in his notes on the last page; I can't imagine what that will look like as, for me, this is truly the zenith of mainstream comics. 10/10

THE WILD STORM #5
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jon Davis-Hunt & Steve Buccellato
DC $3.99

Matt C: While I can’t deny that The Wild Storm is ‘quite good’ it definitely doesn’t possess any of the urgency of Ellis’ work when he initially took on the properties, shaking up the superhero paradigm back at the turn of the century with the likes of Stormwatch, The Authority and Planetary. It feels – and this is recurring reaction I’ve had to a lot of his output of late – like it’s Ellis on autopilot. Another recurrent complaint is that he appears to have lost the art of crafting a cliffhanger. Issues just sort of stop mid-flow when they reach the specified page count, which obviously indicates the whole thing’s designed for the trade format. Which is six issues, and unless the sixth issue of The Wild Storm really turns things around, I’ll be done with this series at that point. 6/10

BLACK HAMMER #10
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: If Royal City is my favourite current book, then Black Hammer runs a very close second. Reading the two together this week, there's definitely a thematic link between them - both books deal with ageing and the passage of time - but Black Hammer's view through the prism of superhero tropes gives a terrific edge. The obvious comparison here is with the seminal Watchmen but what distinguishes Black Hammer is the the breadth and range of influences Lemire and Ormston weave into the narrative. This month, we see Golden Age hero Abraham Slam's attempt to modernise himself - extreme '90s style - with predictable results. If you'd never picked up a comic written before the year 2000, this would still be a great read, but for us hardboiled fanboys and girls, there is an extra joy in seeing Lemire's critique of comic trends of the last 80 years. I'm also loving the mystery at the heart of the title which is becoming more complex and thrilling as the issues pass. Finally, it's good to see Ormston back: his art is consistently great and Dave Stewart's colours give such a definite feel of darkness and dread. Brilliant in every way and the best superhero book being published right now. 9/10

NICK FURY #3
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Aco, Hugo Petrus & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Firstly, that’s one of the covers of the year, no question. Secondly, this is an awesome comic! These done-in-one spy capers are enormously entertaining but I think this particular issue is where the perfect groove is discovered and the combination between artwork and story-crafting meshes in the most striking of ways. You can see the influence of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s (now seminal) Hawkeye series in these pages but the near-overwhelming pop art brilliance on display makes it its own thing, a deliriously addictive experience with an almost lysergic sheen provided by Rosenberg’s impossibly bright colours. Don’t let this one escape your attention. 9/10

BLACK MONDAY MURDERS #6
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Tomm Coker & Michael Garland
Image $3.99

James R: Is there a better looking comic than Black Monday Murders? I know I mentioned it previously but Tomm Coker and Michael Garland are doing extraordinary work on this. It's got a cinematic feel, twinned with a verisimilitude that pulls me in every issue. The script from Hickman is what we've come to expect - a grand narrative, with a smattering of clues and a philosophical reflection on the nature of money. Some might find it ponderous, but I can't get enough of this stuff; it's a rich and intoxicating read. This week I read a number of articles that suggested we could be heading for another financial crash like that of 2008: reading Black Monday Murders feels less like reading fiction, and more like a portent of what's to come. 8/10

THE FEW #6
Writer: Sean Lewis
Art: Hayden Sherman
Image $4.99

Jo S: This series comes to its explosive close and the perfect marriage of art and writing is exemplified on the pages here. Sherman’s scratchy design and minimal colour-palette are taken to the next level, with cityscapes dashed with rain, bleached-out snowy woodland and grainy impenetrable smoke you can smell so clearly it almost makes you cough. Sherman’s work is almost more about what he leaves out than what he puts in - I love the stylised square fingers, the simplicity of Edan’s face: her tiny snub nose manages to change the very masculine cut of her physique to something delicately feminine with just a couple of strokes of ink. Matching the spareness of the visuals, Lewis’ monologues are exactly as much as we need to hear and no more; Edan’s compulsion, and the inevitability of the decision she must make, are unassailable. This series has been a learning curve for me; as I've said in previous reviews, I was confused initially and it took time for me to be able to read the absent as well as the present but it has been richly worth the effort and I will miss this series in coming months. 9/10

Matt C: This immensely satisfying and emotionally involving series draws to a close in a profoundly moving fashion as Edan Hale’s surprising journey towards heroism reaches its end… or perhaps its beginning? The bleak cityscapes and the remote wildness are given equal attention from Sherman’s scratchy, dynamic artwork while Lewis’ scripts brings in a sense of scope, drama and resigned desperation to the proceedings, elevating this dystopian narrative high above run-of-the-mill tales of a similar nature. Often these things run out of steam as the reach their destination, but The Few keeps on moving, even past the point where we disembark, comfortably ensuring it will be one of the best miniseries in 2017. 9/10

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